September 8, 2014 | The Jerusalem Post
Analysis: It’s ‘business as usual’ as some of Israel’s friends in Europe increase trade with Iran
Germany and the Czech Republic – key allies of Israel in the European Union– have boosted economic ties with Iran. The Czech government is slated to send 20 companies to Tehran on Saturday to jump-start business contacts.
Increased commerce with the Islamic Republic, particularly from such strong supporters of Israel, sends a powerful message of “business as usual.”
The visit by the Czech trade delegation is the first of its kind, Radio Prague reported. “We have a lot to follow up on. Iran and the Czech Republic have had historic trade ties which were established in the 1960s and ’70s,” the station quoted Vladimír Dlouhý, head of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, as saying.
While Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek couched his country’s revival of business relations in cautious terms, saying that Iran has to reach an agreement to end its alleged nuclear weapons program, the initiative suggests an unsettling intensification of Czech-Iran relations.
The media in the Islamic Republic heralded the rekindling of relations.
A FARS news report titled “Czech PM calls for practical steps to develop ties with Iran” described how Zaorálek met on Wednesday with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi and said, “We need to take practical steps aimed at expansion of bilateral relations with an optimist vision about the future.” FARS news is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard Corps – an organization responsible for repressing Iran’s democratic Green movement in 2009 and sponsoring global terrorism.
According to Radio Prague, “In 2012, trade between the Czech Republic and Iran amounted to some 1.2 billion… crowns, down from 2.4 billion registered in 2003, before the country’s accession to the European Union.” The country’s international news outlet added that “Czech firms mainly export machinery products, electrical goods, and other products to Iran, while the bulk of imports from Iran consists of fruit and vegetables.”
The Czech Republic was the only EU country to vote against the PLO’s application for non-member observer state status at the UN in 2012.
Meanwhile, neighboring Germany is positioning itself to recapture its €5 billion-plus trade relationship with the Islamic Republic. The Wall Street Journal reported in an August titled article “German Businesses Warm to Iran” that a two-day conference on Iran in Frankfurt in July drew 40 companies from the machine and factory-engineering industries. Topics included “market entry options, investment rules, sanctions and Iranian politics.”
German-Iranian trade has continued to increase since the world powers reached an agreement last November to relax sanctions on Tehran. In response, Iran’s regime agreed to curtail its illicit nuclear program. The bilateral commerce saw an increase of 42.8% between January and May of 2014, according to Eurostat, a European Union website that tracks trade data.
Iran’s state-controlled Tehran Times euphorically announced on Monday that Germany was Iran’s leading trade partner during June.
“The European country [Germany] exported €207 million of goods to Iran in June 2014, an 88 percent rise compared to June 2013,” wrote the paper.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed that Israel’s security interests are integral to her country’s national security. However, she has had little appetite to confront Germany’s powerful business community.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of a new book Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, wrote on Monday, “As Iran redoubles its investment in its military, nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the region will be paying the price for years to come for allowing Iran such a cash windfall without winning anything in exchange.”
Rubin zeroed in on the danger of sanctions relief without an ironclad agreement with the regime in Tehran. Absent Iran agreeing to shut down the military components of its nuclear and missile program, sanctions relief funds and increased trade will enable it to further militarize.
A “penny-wise and pound-foolish” strategy with Iran will expose the EU to a similar Islamic State-style danger, but on a nuclear and missile scale.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.