February 28, 2018 | The Jerusalem Post

Fear of US Sanctions Ends German Companies Fueling Iranian FM’s Plane

Energy and oil companies refused to refuel Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s airplane ahead of his trip to the Munich Security Conference in mid-February to avoid violations of US sanctions targeting the clerical regime in Tehran, according to German media reports on Tuesday.

To avoid a serious diplomatic crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration ordered the German Air Force to refuel his plane in order to assure Zarif that he could leave the Federal Republic.

The head of the Munich conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, told media organizations that Zarif was able to talk at the conference only because of the great efforts to guarantee the refueling of his plane.

Ischinger contacted the German Foreign Ministry, which asked the Defense Ministry to resolve the dispute. Ischinger said, “Whatever one thinks of sanctions, here they almost led to a dangerous situation where we could not ever speak with each other.”

Farnaz Fassihi, a senior writer at The Wall Street Journal, tweeted on Wednesday: “Germany’s airport refuses fuel to Zarif’s airplane but then German FM issues visa for #Iran top human rights violator for medical treatment!”

The human rights violator Fassihi referenced in her tweet was Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, considered to be a successor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Critics accuse Shahroudi of imposing widespread executions on Iranians while he was the country’s justice minister.

Germany reportedly provided Shahroudi with life-saving medical treatment in December and January in the city of Hanover.

Iran’s presence at past Munich conferences has caused controversy.

Ali Larijani, the current head of Iran’s quasi-parliament, engaged in a form of Holocaust denial at the 2009 Munich Security Conference, according to critics, when he said his country has “different perspectives on the Holocaust.” Ischinger did not file criminal charges for denying the Holocaust against Larijani, who was viewed as defending then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denial statements.

Ischinger faced criticism for signing a 2013 letter that bashed Israel for its “occupation” of disputed Palestinian territories and failure to make progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council for Foreign Relations, wrote on the council’s website at the time in a blog post titled 'Why Europe can’t bring peace to the Middle East', “The letter is important in one way: It shows that European official and elite thinking continue to blame Israel for everything related to the so-called Peace Process.”

US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said at the Munich Security Conference, “When you invest in Iran, you’re investing in the IRGC. You might as well cut the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a check and say, ‘Please use this to commit more murder across the Middle East.’”

He added, “And when we look at the biggest trading partners with Iran, we of course see Russia, we see China. But we also see Japan, South Korea and Germany. It’s time to focus business intelligence efforts to figure out who we are really doing business with, and cut off funding.”

Germany previously faced criticism for selling deadly chemical agents to Syrian President Bashar Assad during the Merkel administration and that of her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder.

The Jerusalem Post reported in early February that the German government’s Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control green-lighted a deal for the German company Krempel to sell construction material to Iran.

The construction parts were found in Iranian chemical rockets in eastern Ghouta outside of Damascus, with the “Made in Germany” logo and the name of the company on them. The rockets played a role in gassing scores of children and adults.

When asked about the poison-gas strikes in Eastern Ghouta, where German technology played a role two weeks ago, a representative of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Netherlands told the Post, “Unfortunately, we are unable to comment on the specific questions you have raised.”

The organization announced on Tuesday it had launched a probe into reports that chlorine bombs were used multiple times in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held area near Damascus. German trade with Syria’s main sponsor – Iran’s regime – continues to increase. German exports to the Islamic Republic of Iran climbed to €3.5 billion in 2017 from €2.6b. in 2016.

Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.