July 16, 2015 | The Jerusalem Post
Analysis: German-Iran Business Ties Complicate Relations With Israel
With the adoption of the Iran nuclear deal by world powers – including Germany – on Tuesday, Chancellor Angela’s Merkel administration issued a full-throated endorsement of the agreement that will also advance her country’s economic interests.
The deal has, however, exacerbated certain tensions in the German- Israel relationship.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told German broadcaster ARD, “This is a responsible deal and Israel should also take a closer look at it and not criticize the agreement in a very coarse way.”
Israel’s embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post, “Federal Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated in the ARD interview that certain issues are not to be discussed in public, as it is common practice among amicable partners. Along the same line, what we have to convey to our German partners, we also express directly and not through the media.”
Steinmeier said, “I will certainly travel to Iran, but I don’t have concrete travel plans yet.”
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel plans to fly to Iran on Sunday to quickly tap the trading opportunities from the deal.
Traditionally, Germany has been Iran’s leading trade partner in Europe. During the years of sanctions against Iran, German exports to Iran fell from a high of €4.4 billion in 2005 to €1.8b. in 2013.
The head of the BDI – Federation of German Industries predicted exports could jump to more than €10b. per year in the medium term from €2.4b. in 2014, seeing the car, chemical, healthcare and renewable energy industries as potential winners.
German companies, from Volkswagen to Siemens and thousands of smaller family-owned firms, are lining up to take advantage of the Iranian market.
Stop the Bomb, a German NGO opposed to Iran’s nuclear program, is slated to protest on Friday against Gabriel’s trip in front of the Economic Ministry in Berlin.
Ulrike Becker, a spokeswoman for Stop the Bomb, told the Post Gabriel’s trip sums up the problem: “Even before the agreement is ratified, and sanctions lifted, Germany vice chancellor [Gabriel] paves the way for billion-dollar deals. And [it’s only] a few days after Iran’s regime on the occasion of the anti-Semitic al-Quds day documented its intention to destroy the Jewish state. It is significant that 70 years after the Shoah, the federal government stands in the first row when it concerns business with the anti-Semitic Iranian regime.”
Gabriel described the deal as a “historic breakthrough,” adding that it was now time to talk about a change in the relationship between Iran and Israel. It is unclear if he will confront Iran regarding its efforts to kill Israelis, including through terrorist attacks.
During his visit to Israel in 2012, Gabriel called Israel an “apartheid regime.”
Gabriel, chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, has not issued such public rebukes regarding Iran’s human rights record, including punishing gays by death, and unjustly imprisoning Baha’is, Kurds and Sunni Iranians.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and an expert on Iranian nuclear negotiations, told the Post, “Germany has rushed to do business with the ayatollahs, and the foreign minister is about to visit Iran. Instead of attacking Netanyahu for raising the necessary alarm, Mr. Steinmeier should tell his hosts in Tehran that their Holocaust denial, support for terror, and genocidal threats must end.”
He added, “As part of the P5+1 team that negotiated with Iran, Steinmeier naturally needs to defend his contribution. However, the attack against Mr. Netanyahu goes much farther, and is not justifiable, both in substance and in the patronizing tone. Israeli concerns about the agreement that is expected to result in an Iranian nuclear bomb are not the private grumblings of an individual, but are reflected, for good reason, across the political spectrum.”
The rift between Germany and Israel over the Iranian threat has been an ongoing point of conflict.
Writing on Sunday in the Berlin- based Tagesspiegel daily, former Israeli ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein and Hebrew University historian Moshe Zimmermann said there is an “asymmetry” in the views of Israel and Germany toward Iran’s nuclear program.
From Israel’s point of view, the Merkel administration has been playing down the Iranian threat.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency – the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – wrote in a report in June, “Germany anticipates that Iran will continue its intensive procurement efforts in Germany” in connection with illicit nuclear and missile technology.
The German government seem to be discounting the relevance of the intelligence data.
A flourishing German-Iran business relationship complicates relations between Jerusalem and Berlin. After all, many of the new deals could involve dual-use goods, which can be used for both military and civilian purposes. Germany has a long history of selling chemical agents to Bashar Assad’s regime, as well as dual-use technology to Iran’s regime, including surveillance equipment. Assad reportedly used German chemicals for his sarin gas bombs employed in the Syrian civil war.
Given the gold rush to penetrate Iranian markets, it will be a herculean task for Berlin to ensure that the Islamic Republic will not use German technology against Israel.
The issue of Iran securing revenue, particularly from energy sales, from Germany and using the money to step up terrorist attacks against Israel via Hezbollah and Hamas is another story.
Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal