The German government has pulled the plug on Hezbollah, labeling it a terrorist organization – its political “wing” as well as its military “wing” – and banning its activity on German soil; associated organizations will also be outlawed. What took so long? Surely there was no benefit to Germany in the relationship, except perhaps, to irritate Israel.
Or was there?
Some German politicians claimed relations with Hezbollah were necessary to maintain relations with Lebanon, where the party leads the government. A Foreign Ministry official had called it a “relevant factor in Lebanese society and part of the complex political landscape in the country.” But with the Beirut government in default on its debts and facing revolution in the streets, allowing terrorist cells to operate in Germany seems unduly sympathetic.
But Hezbollah is a subsidiary of Iran, and through a different prism, Germany’s decision may be the reordering of its relationship with Tehran under the stresses of U.S.-led sanctions, plus the Russia-Saudi oil price war, the Wuhan virus, and the not-often-mentioned rebellion that has been going on in the Islamic Republic since late 2017. In other words, through the prism of money and a distinct unconcern for the people who suffer under tyrannical rule.
The 2015 “Iran deal” made Germany Iran’s primary European trading partner and primary political defender. In 2016, according to the German government, Germany sold Iran 2.9 billion euros worth of machinery and equipment, cars, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and medical products. Iran sold Germany 300 million euros worth of dried fruits, pistachios, rugs, and industrial raw materials. “Machinery and equipment” for fruit. Sounds safe.
In 2017, trade amounted to 3.6 billion euros. But in December of that year, according to the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, 33 percent of Iranians lived below the poverty line, and the gap between the rich and poor was deepening. That month a widespread rebellion began.
Early protests were registered in 70 towns and cities, with at least 22 people killed and 3,700 arrested in the first three weeks. Strikes continued around the country, with demonstrators in Ahvaz chanting, “Palestine and Syria are not our problem” and “Not for Gaza, not for Syria, my life only for Iran.” The women of “White Wednesday” continued their protest even after Shaparak Shajarizadeh, the iconic woman who stood on a utility box and waved her headscarf, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer who defended women in court, was sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes.
By the end of 2018, Amnesty International – notoriously uninterested in the Middle East except for Israel – said Iran had arrested more than 7,000 people.
The Trump administration re-imposed sanctions in late 2018, striking the oil, shipping, and financial sectors. A report from the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce in mid-2019, German exports to Iran declined by 50 percent in the first quarter compared to the same the same period in 2018, although the products were nearly the same: machinery, mechanical devices, pharmaceuticals and electrical products, the volume amounted to 339 million euros for the first three months, while importing 60 million euros worth of Iranian pistachios, carpets, and what the report called “a limited amount” of steel and fuels. (Germany imports more than 50 percent of its energy needs, but from Russia, the UK, and The Netherlands, not Iran.) At that time, more than 60 German companies were still operating in Iran.
In the Spring of 2019, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was concerned enough about his country’s status to appear on American television to “show the Iranian people that the U.S. is not worthy of being a negotiating partner,” and the Trump administration as “squeezing the Iranian people, not the government.” He added, “When the Iranian people are pressured, they do not respond with submission, they respond with resistance. They want us to represent them.”
However, there was another burst of widespread upheaval in Iran in November 2019, along with demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq against the Islamic Republic.
The Russia-Saudi oil price war and the Wuhan Virus showed up in 2020. The former has added to Iran’s cash-crunch and the latter has exposed its inability to care for its people or tell the truth in public. Iran’s response has been largely to threaten Israel and harass the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.
Five years after it assumed the role of Iran’s partner, it may be that without the lure of profits and after many more than five years of watching the Iranian – and Lebanese – people suffer at the hands of terrorist leadership, Germany has decided to change course, first by dumping Hezbollah.
If so, it’s about damned time. And what’s next?