What Explains Germany’s Persistent, Quixotic Friendship With Iran?
JNS.org – At the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Jan. 23 marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared: “Germany’s responsibility does not expire. We want to live up to our responsibility. By this, you should measure us.”
On Feb. 5, his office sent, by mistake, a congratulatory telegram to the Iranian regime on the occasion of “Islamic Revolution’s Victory Day” on Feb. 11.
According to a spokesperson from Steinmeier’s office, the error resulted from a coordination issue with the German embassy in Tehran. The spokesperson added that the text of the telegram erroneously sent also contained critical remarks, although it has not been publicly released.
The intent to mark the founding of a regime that pledges to wipe Israel off the map is just a small string of German actions vis-à-vis Iran that prompt pro-Jewish and human-rights activists to measure Germany’s contrition over the Holocaust unfavorably.
Germany’s relationship with the Iranian regime has come under further scrutiny following the Trump administration’s Jan. 3 drone strike at the Baghdad Airport that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s chief architect of past and imminent terrorist attacks. Iran retaliated with strikes against two military bases in Iraq that housed US soldiers, resulting in injuries to more than 100 American service members. It also threatened to no longer abide by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal intended to curb its nuclear ambitions. At the same time, the government violently cracked down on Iranian citizens who took to the streets in protest of current economic stagnation and more.
Germany is diligently seeking to preserve the deal and bypass American sanctions, despite the US withdrawal.
“The Iranian regime was just seen killing peaceful protesters in the streets. This is not a regime that should be celebrated,” US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told JNS. His criticism of Germany’s participation in the Iranian holiday has been credited for Steinmeier’s decision not to send a telegram.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be US Ambassador to Germany was because I wanted to deepen and broaden the German-US relationship to the point where the German government didn’t have to think about whose side they would be on when a global crisis or situation arose—that they would innately be with the West,” said Grenell. “I believe this letter of congratulations to the murderous regime in Iran should never have been drafted, thereby eliminating the chance it would be mistakenly sent.”
‘More interested in short-term business deals’
What drives Germany to persist in friendly relations with an antisemitic regime, and how could it justify to the people it vows to protect?
“Germany is intensely devoted to preserving the Islamic Republic’s regime because of the high volume of trade with Iran’s rulers and its foreign policy of not wanting to pick fights with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes,” said Benjamin Weinthal, a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and journalist reporting extensively on these issues.
Moreover, he said, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government “is also trigger-shy about criticizing Iran’s mullah regime because she does not want to jeopardize the deeply flawed nuclear deal that, in my view, delivers Iran’s regime a solid pathway to building a nuclear-weapons device. Merkel is more interested in short-term business deals with Iran’s rulers than stopping a genocidal antisemitic regime from obtaining a nuclear-weapons program.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, likewise blames Germany’s financial interests.
“It’s clear that Germany, Inc., has made a decision, backed up by this government, to aggressively pursue friendly economic ties with Iran, which means in 2020, you don’t have friendly economic ties unless you also knowing that you’re dealing with the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, which essentially has been given control of the economy by [Iran’s Supreme Leader], the Ayatollah [Ali Khamenei]. That makes it pretty nasty,” said Cooper in a telephone interview.
Cooper, who attended the International Holocaust Forum along with Steinmeier, is particularly shocked by Germany’s refusal to call out Iran’s Holocaust denial.
“Right now, the German government has not shown the political will whatsoever to push back on the Iranian hate, and they have consistently voted time and again for their pocketbooks over any ethical concerns. Not only about Jews,” he said. “What about the people of Iran that are desperate to see a change in attitude or a change in regime?”
In late December, the German parliament heeded calls of the US embassy in Germany and Jewish groups such as the Wiesenthal Center and the Central Council of Jews in Germany to ban the entire Iran-proxy Hezbollah from Germany. Until then, it distinguished between its military and political wing. Cooper is skeptical that Germany will diligently enforce the non-binding resolution, reflecting a lack of consistent resolve on Germany’s part to confront Iran.
“I think the way they justify it is: ‘Look, we’re good friends with Israel,’ ” said Cooper. “And it’s true that Germany helped get Israel submarines, and I’m sure they have close ties insofar as intelligence and related issues. And I imagined that on balance—no Israeli officials ever told me—but I think the Israelis hold their public criticism of Germany because what they get from Germany is important enough, and they can’t afford to pick a fight.”
The Central Council of Jews in Germany declined to comment on Steinmeier’s gaffe or on German-Iran foreign policy. AJC Berlin did not respond to a request for comments.
‘No government celebrations of Iranian national holiday’
The Foreign Ministry press office told JNS that observing national holidays of other countries is diplomatic protocol. Last year, the Foreign Ministry came under fire for sending officials to the celebrations of the regime’s 40th anniversary at the Iranian embassy in Berlin.
“Since the Federal Republic of Germany continues to maintain diplomatic relations with Iran, this also applies to this year’s national holiday,” the statement read. “There are no Federal Government celebrations of the Iranian national holiday.”
The ministry did not respond to a request for clarification on the extent German diplomats participated in this year’s celebrations. It further stated that diplomats are instructed to leave Iranian-sponsored events in the face of any antisemitic or anti-Israel incitement, and that it “regularly addresses critical points in all areas very openly to Iran.”
While exhortations of the Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish rights groups sometimes seem to fall on deaf ears, Cooper believes that Jews must hold Germany to its passionate “Never Again” pledge.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy. And one thing is for sure: We’ll be there to pound on them until we do get some changes. I think we also have to acknowledge that there are many Germans in all the political parties who are upset about this policy. And maybe, after Merkel leaves, things will change.”