In the choice between greed and values, Europe is approaching an existential crossroads with Iran. Europe is both undermining its credibility and surrendering its principles.
For Western governments to defend the interests of businesses is normal. But to betray the Iranian people, who are repressed by their own regime; to undermine Israel's concerns about Iran's all too real threats of annihilation; to beg for an accord that fast-tracks Iran's nuclear weapons capability, and to boycott efforts by the US administration to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its actions -- these are not normal. They are lethal.
The Iranian leadership has long called for the destruction of Israel -- the country, along with Saudi Arabia, most at risk from a nuclearized and aggressive Islamic Republic. In November, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, who has been hailed by the media as a "moderate", called Israel a "cancerous tumor in the region." A few months earlier, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted similar remarks:
"#Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen."
In early November, Hamas, one of Iran's terror proxies, fired hundreds of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. Brian Hook, the US Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Special Representative for Iran explained:
"Iran has been providing materiel support to the Taliban since at least 2007. These same rockets have been used by Hamas in the past... we urge all nations, especially the European Union, to move missile sanctions through the European Union so that we can start managing the risk of a regional conflict through missile proliferation".
The attempt by the European Union (EU) to bribe Iran's leaders into compliance with international standards is futile. Iran's terror campaign is not directed only at the West's democratic ally in the Middle East, but also at Europe itself. In June, thanks to Israel, France foiled an Iranian terror plot targeting an event of the National Council of Resistance of Iran near Paris, which was attended by hundreds of dignitaries from Europe, North America and around the world. In the Netherlands, a political activist who campaigned for an independent Arab state in the Ahwaz region of Iran was shot dead in November 2017. In October 2018, Danish officials arrested an Iranian-Norwegian dual-national for plotting the assassination of Iranian dissidents living in Denmark. In the wake of that foiled plot, the Wall Street Journal commented:
"Even as Iranian hit squads are setting up shop across the Continent, the European Union is displaying a fundamental lack of seriousness about a country uninterested in distinctions between bombs, missiles and assassinations."
Europe, apparently, has a short memory. During the 1980s and 1990s, Iranian operatives engaged in assassinations targeting opposition figures in France, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. In 1997, a German court concluded that the highest levels of Iran's "political leadership" ordered the killing of exiled Iranian dissidents at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. The Shah of Iran's last prime minister, Shahpour Bakhtiar, was found stabbed to death at his home outside Paris. Hamid Abutalebi, a high-ranking diplomat who has served as Iran's ambassador to Australia, the EU, Belgium and Italy, was accused of overseeing the 1993 assassination of Iranian dissident Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Rome. When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged Iran with conducting "assassination operations" in Europe, Tehran was merely resuming a deadly and effective terror campaign.
The recent Iranian terror wave in Europe began in 2012 with the deadly bomb attack on an Israeli tour group in Bulgaria, in which five tourists were killed. Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanese terror proxy was implicated in the bombing, and Israel accused Iran of ordering the attack. A senior American official revealed that the directions for the terror cell had been given to Hezbollah by Iran.
Nathan A. Sales, the US State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism, recently disclosed the total amount of money Iran is spending to finance terrorism:
"This may sound hard to believe, but Iran provides Hizballah alone some $700 million a year. It gives another $100 million to various Palestinian terrorist groups. When you throw in the money provided to other terrorists, the total comes close to one billion dollars... Let's pause to consider that, because it bears repeating: The Iranian regime spends nearly a billion dollars a year just to support terrorism".
How does one explain Europe's silence and weakness in the face of this terror threat? According to the British government, EU trade with Iran in 2016 stood at around $8 billion and is expected to "quadruple by 2018". Iran traded $1.15 billion worth of non-oil goods with the UK in the year to March 20, 2018 -- 154% more than the year before. The British government also pledged to expand business ties with Iran. France's trade with Iran saw a staggering rise of 112% during January-October 2017, compared the same period the year before. In 2017, the trade volume between Germany and Iran increased by 17%. Europe wants a piece of Iran's economy; it is begging for it.
Just day after Rouhani's Israel "cancer" speech, and when all these Iranian terror plots on Europe's soil were already under investigation, Iranian representatives met senior EU officials in Brussels to discuss nuclear cooperation in the framework of the unsigned, illegitimate "nuclear deal". After the talks, EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini said, "They equally expressed their determination to preserve the nuclear agreement as a matter of respecting international agreements and a key pillar for European and regional security". Iran thanked Europe for taking "practical steps" to safeguard the deal. Ahead of the meeting with the Iranians, EU Energy Commissioner Arias Canete said the deal is "crucial for the security of Europe, of the region and the entire world." Unfortunately, the opposite is true: appeasing Iran is catastrophic to the security of Europe and the Middle East.
Europe's appeasement of Iran is based on weakness and greed.
Two-way EU trade with Iran increased from €13.7 billion in 2016 to €21 billion in 2017. That is most likely why, since September, the EU is planning to create a "special purpose" financial company to thwart US President Donald Trump's new sanctions against Iran and help Tehran to continue to sell oil in the EU.
"Germany exported $3.42 billion in merchandise to Iran in 2017. Economic analysts said shortly after the 2015 nuclear deal was reached that German-Iranian trade could soon surpass $10 billion per year. Approximately 120 German companies operate inside the Islamic Republic, and 10,000 German businesses conduct trade with Iran."
It should be noted that the German government not only rejected US sanctions but, as means of "facilitating German trade with Iran", is also providing state credit guarantees to German companies that do business with the Islamic Republic. Since 2016, the German government provided German firms with nearly a billion euros in export credit guarantees, "to protect their business dealings with Iran from the high risks of its markets." And despite the US sanctions, Europe is still a major destination for Iran's flag carrier. One week after the US imposed the new sanctions, including a ban on its airline, Iran Air flew to Paris, London and Hamburg.
Europe's blindness about the nature of the Iranian regime led Italy's parliament to open its doors to a delegation from the Institute for Political and International Studies, based in Tehran. This is the same organization that, in 2006, orchestrated an infamous conference denying the Holocaust. "Israel has a destructive role in our region. Israel is a country that has occupied Palestine and with the war wants to maintain its existence. Israel is a falsification," stated Iranian diplomat Alireza Bigdeli to the Italian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. A major European power is not only trafficking Iranian oil -- it is also whitewashing Iran's anti-Semitic propaganda.
According to British columnist Melanie Phillips:
"The Europeans' eagerness to continue to trade with Iran is disgusting. The United States lists Iran as the world's principal state sponsor of terrorism. The regime has been in a state of self-declared war against the West since it took power in 1979. It regularly denies the Holocaust and re-states its intention to wipe Israel off the map... So it should simply be unconscionable to trade with Iran. Yet the Europeans are bending every sinew to continue to do so".
Germany's former Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, recently traveled with a German economic delegation to Tehran. According to the newspaper Bild, Gabriel met parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani (who called the existence of the Holocaust an "open question") and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who is in charge of Iran's support for various terror groups in the Middle East. The new German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, recently said that there is "strong unity" with Iran on minimizing the impact of US sanctions.
Europe, it seems, has chosen Iran over its values and the transatlantic alliance. Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of German Jews, denounced Germany's hypocrisy:
"It seems paradoxical that Germany — as a country that is said to have learned from its horrendous past and which has a strong commitment to fight anti-Semitism — is one of the strongest economic partners of a regime that is blatantly denying the Holocaust and abusing human rights on a daily basis".
A Europe where anti-Semitism is rampant again, according to a new CNN poll, sees no trouble in appeasing a country such as Iran, which routinely calls for destroying the Israeli Jews and denying the Holocaust.
EU greed can sometimes become embarrassing, as when the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, wearing a hijab, posed for selfies in Iran's parliament. Or when Sweden's Trade Minister, Ann Linde, led a delegation from her country to Iran and all the women wore headscarves. When Iranians took to the streets to protest their regime, according to Bloomberg's Eli Lake, Mogherini "was mute on the popular uprising in Iran."
"She waited six days to say anything about the demonstrations there. When she finally did, it was a mixture of ingratiation and neutrality. 'In the spirit of openness and respect that is at the root of our relationship," she said, 'we expect all concerned to refrain from violence and to guarantee freedom of expression'".
It was an exquisite example of moral myopia.
In 1938, the leaders of France and Britain signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler and Mussolini. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain hailed the agreement as bringing "peace for our time." The weak and blind European governments trusted the Nazi leadership, who were already planning not only the invasion of their neighbors, but also the Holocaust. Europe's appeasement, instead of leading to peace, led to world war and Hitler's takeover of most of Europe. In 2018, Europe's leaders are again gambling with the security of their own citizens as well as that of their Middle East allies, especially Israel. Today's short-sighted effort by Europe to appease Tehran for profit is simply a replica of its 1938 surrender.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.