A turning point has been reached that challenges the reigning paradigm of German-Iranian relations.
There are sentences that can trigger wars. Among them is this sentence from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran of 8 November 2011: “The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
Contrary to prior assumptions, Iran continued pursuing its nuclear weapons program after 2003. The regime has been conducting research into the conversion of uranium metal into a form usable in warheads, working on the complex detonating mechanisms for nuclear bombs and making preparations for a nuclear test.
Admittedly, since 1945 the world has got used to living with the idea of nuclear weapons in the hands of secular or semi-secular states. But why is Iran determined to push forward with its nuclear program at absolutely any price?
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad answered this question in August 2007: “The nuclearization of Iran is the beginning of a fundamental change in the world”. Iran’s nuclear technology, he went on to promise, would “be used in the service of those who are determined to resist the brutal powers and aggressors.”
These remarks show that the Iranian President does not consider Iran’s nuclear weapons program to be defensive in intent. It is also clear that Iran is ready to pass on its nuclear capabilities to other regimes and movements. There is, moreover, absolutely no doubt about where the “fundamental change” is to begin: “The Zionist regime will be erased and humanity will be liberated”, Ahmadinejad promised the audience at the 2006 Holocaust denial conference in Teheran.
Furthermore, once Iran’s revolutionary leader has the bomb, it will be difficult to disarm him and deprive him of his power without this bomb being used. The world would then have to decide whether to make further concessions to a fanatical regime or defeat it – now at an inconceivably high price.
The small disaster is approaching
So there are sentences that can trigger wars. The above-quoted sentence has brought the moment when American and/or Israeli jets take off to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites menacingly close. The small disaster intended to ward off the great one is approaching.
Is it going to happen or will the international community summon up the will to use all the non-military instruments envisaged by the UN Charter to bring regimes such as the one in power in Iran to see reason? According to Article 41 of the Charter, such measures include “complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations”.
At the moment, apparently not. On the contrary, the sextet of the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany initially entrusted with tackling the Iran issue is less united than ever.
On the one side are China and Russia. They seem reconciled to the Iranian bomb and reject increased pressure on Iran. According to a recent study from the Washington-based Atlantic Council, “China does not feel threatened by the prospect of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. … Some elements in the Chinese defense establishment would actually prefer a nuclear Iran … if that compels the United States to retain substantial military forces in the Gulf rather than East Asia.” Similar considerations may also be at work in the Kremlin.
On the other side are the UK, France and the USA. Last Monday they sharply stepped up their pressure on Teheran. On 21 November the USA reinforced its sanctions against the Iranian oil and petrochemical industries. On the same day France called for an end to purchases of Iranian oil and a freeze on all Iranian Central Bank assets and the UK suspended all financial cooperation with Iran with immediate effect.
That leaves Germany, which seems to be treading water midway between these two positions. In Germany’s Foreign Office, it is being said that the Western proposals “are heading in the right direction”, but must first be “intensively studied”.
The spokesperson for the Social Democrats’ Bundestag group, Rolf Mützenich, even sounded a note of disappointment, finding it “regrettable that individual governments are going ahead with further sanctions on Iran.” We have heard no specific proposals responding to the deepening of the crisis.
The German government, however, has the power to tip the scales. Will it come down on the side of Israel or Iran?
Germany as the founder of Persian industry
Back in the 1920s, Persia was ruled by a man who adored the Germans: Reza Shah. He arranged for 70 German officials to run the Iranian State Bank. He ensured that all the machinery for Iran’s mining, cement, paper, textile and other industries came from Germany. This process reached its climax at the beginning of the 1940s, when 43% of all Iranian imports came from Germany and 47% of all Iranian exports went in the opposite direction.
About the Author: Küntzel is an external research associate at the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Board of Directors of the German chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). Matthias holds a tenured part-time position as a teacher of political science at a technical college in Hamburg, Germany.
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