By: Alina Dain Sharon and Sean Savage
The Iran nuclear deal has dominated the foreign policy debate in the U.S. this summer, with Congress in the midst of a 60-day period to review the agreement. But America is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the accord reached in July between Iran and the P5+1 world powers. Below, JNS.org examines how the Iran deal is being considered within the Western European nations that participated in the nuclear negotiations, and how Europe’s Jewish community has reacted to the pact.
Tom Wilson, a resident associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think tank in the U.K., told JNS.org that “unlike in the U.S. Congress, Britain’s parliament has really neglected to debate the agreement robustly.”
“With the exception of a few lone voices, British parliamentarians have simply ignored this issue,” he said.
Wilson explained that political conservatives in the U.K. can be divided among those who are similar in their views to American conservatives and tend to oppose the deal, and those who are politically isolationist. The isolationists, from economic and pragmatic perspectives, tend to oppose military intervention and support a diplomatic relationship with Iran.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, does not fit perfectly into either of those categories due to his vocal opposition to radical Islam and support for intervention in Syria on the one hand, and his support of the Iran deal on the other hand.
In addition to those who support the deal on the political left, the British far-left boasts some members who strongly oppose military intervention as a solution to Iran’s nuclear issue and therefore support the deal. Some center-left figures also oppose the agreement.
Meanwhile, the British media has had a mixed reaction to the nuclear deal, with various newspapers publishing articles that either praised, expressed some caution, or strongly opposed the agreement, according to an analysis by The Guardian.
Sam Westrop, a U.K.-based senior fellow with the Gatestone Institute think tank, told JNS.org that the contrast in Britain between the relatively low number of political voices opposing the deal and the media’s more circumspect attitude “is, to some extent, reflected across Western Europe.”
“The willingness of European parliaments to embrace the outcome of dialogue, whatever the cost, is alarming. Undoubtedly, the threats posed by ISIS (Islamic State) have, foolishly, led many in Europe to regard Iran as an ally in the fight against terror,” Westrop said.
When it comes to the U.K. Jewish community, when the deal was announced, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council issued a statement calling for “caution” and “extreme vigilance on those who are policing the agreement,” so that “Iran, which remains a sponsor of terror worldwide, has no opportunity to develop weapons of mass destruction.”
More recently, while Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush welcomed the “emphasis placed on human rights in Iran by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond,” who recently visited Tehran for the reopening of the British embassy there, Arkush also noted that the Iranian regime’s “record on human rights can only be described as dire.”
The reopening of the embassy seems to have garnered more attention in the U.K. than the signing of the nuclear deal itself. The move was accompanied by “disquiet about the fact that the ‘Death to England’ graffiti was still on the embassy’s walls at the time of reopening,” Wilson told JNS.org.
While visiting Tehran, Hammond said the current government of Iran has a “more nuanced approach” to Israel. That assertion was quickly refuted by Hussein Sheikholeslam, a foreign affairs adviser to Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani , who said Iran’s “positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all; Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan.”
According to Wilson, this incident highlights “how many in Britain seem to imagine that the Iranian threat is primarily an Israeli concern.”
“In the rush to dismiss the Iranian threat as an Israeli concern, British figures forget just how concerned their allies in the Gulf States are. And few seem to appreciate that the flaws in this agreement threaten to have an incredibly detrimental impact on security for Britain and the West,” Wilson said.
A YouGov poll conducted in July showed that 62 percent of the German public supported the nuclear deal. Among the U.S., the U.K., and Germany, the Germans were revealed to be the least likely to view their country’s relationship with Iran as “poor.”
Deidre Berger, the director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) office in Berlin, told JNS.org that in Germany “there is little opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, the agreement is not much of a topic of public discussion.”
“While there have been a number of journalists raising probing questions about the details of the agreement, government officials and members of parliament have expressed overwhelming support,” she said.
Both German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel have announced they will visit Tehran in the fall.
Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based research fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told JNS.org that Germany and other European countries have simply “relegated Israel’s security, European security, and human rights to an inferior status in order to advance their country’s short-term business profits.”
While there has been significant criticism of German Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel for rushing to visit Tehran with a business delegation just days after the agreement was signed, this irritation seemed to stem “mainly to the timing, and the trip as such did not seem to have an impact on the overall favorable public opinion of the agreement,” Berger said.
“Some German negotiators have expressed skepticism about Iran’s willingness to implement the agreement fully but believe nonetheless that without an agreement, Iran would in short order build a nuclear bomb,” she added.
Dr. Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement that the Iran deal “presupposes mutual trust” despite the fact that the Iranian regime has been outspoken about its call for Israel’s destruction and has denied the Holocaust regularly.
According to Simone Rodan-Benazquen, director of AJC Europe and AJC Paris, “in France, even in political spheres, [the Iran deal] has not been a major issue,” but “in terms of public government response, there is generally slightly more caution in France than in the rest of Europe.”
Indeed, during the nuclear negotiations, France took a harder line on Iran than its European counterparts—and the U.S.—at times.
The French government “turned out to be the real hawk among the Western powers involved in the Iran talks,” Weinthal said.
“In short, a socialist French government, to its credit, internalized deeply the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and sought to twist the U.S negotiating arm to secure greater concessions from Iran,” he said.
But Weinthal said the French government, under pressure from the business community, eventually relented and conformed to the Obama administration’s position in the negotiations.
Shortly after the nuclear deal was signed, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited Tehran in late July because French companies like Airbus, as well as carmakers Peugeot Citroën and Renault, have been seeking to renew business ties with Iran that had been cut off by economic sanctions, the New York Times reported.
AJC’s Paris branch itself has come “to the conclusion that it opposes the deal,” Rodan-Benazquen said, citing “too many risks, concerns, and ambiguities for us to lend our support.”
Similarly, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) expressed “serious doubt” regarding the Iran deal’s “security guarantees and promises on control of nuclear installations.”
“The repeated intention by religious leaders of the Iranian regime to obtain the bomb with the objective of destroying the State of Israel is a serious and real threat to the people of Israel, but also to the whole region and to the world,” CRIF said.
What does it all mean?
Dr. Moshe Kantor—president of the European Jewish Congress, an umbrella group that represents 42 Jewish communities and more than 2.5 million Jews across the continent— told JNS.org that “the details of the agreement are extremely troubling.”
“On almost all of the major sticking points, Iran appears to have come out stronger, and this deal will prove to be a prize for radicalism,” he said.
But while the debate in the U.S. heats up ahead of the Sept. 17 deadline for Congress to decide whether to support or reject the deal, the lighter discourse in Western Europe—coupled with the eagerness of governments and businesses there to forge closer ties with Tehran—indicates “European fatigue and mass cowardice about confronting terrorism and rogue regimes,” FDD’s Weinthal said.
The Gatestone Institute’s Westrop echoed Weinthal’s assessment, saying that Europe “simply does not understand Iran” and “fails to recognize the dangers of Shi’ite Islamism and the inevitable violence that will follow if we embolden and enrich a regime that, like ISIS, is fanatically chasing apocalyptic judgment.”
“Because Iran pursues its theocratic ideals through less overtly harrowing means,” he added, “Europe falsely perceives a distinction.”