Syrian President Bashar Assad is not an independent actor. The Assad regime owes its existence to Iran and Russia.
Bashar Assad would never have carried out his April 7 chemical weapons attack against rebel forces and their families in Douma, outside Damascus, if he hadn’t received a green light from Russia and operational assistance and permission from Iran.
As a result, by sidestepping Russian and Iranian assets in Syria, President Donald Trump’s precision strike in retaliation for Syria’s chemical weapons attack may have little strategic significance.
As Israel noted Thursday, Iran is specifically responsible for the violence in Syria. And as Trump gets his new foreign policy team set up, with his Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo awaiting Senate confirmation, the threat Iran poses to US national security and strategic interests is rapidly expanding.
Not only is Iran the power behind the man Trump referred to as a “Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it.” Iran is the most acute threat to the nuclear peace that has held since the end of World War II.
On April 9, Iran celebrated “Nuclear Day.” Regime officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, threatened the U.S., saying that if America abandons the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, then Iran can restore uranium enrichment to weapons grade levels within two days.
These threats underscore the point, made repeatedly by nuclear watchdogs and nuclear deal opponents, that under the nuclear deal, Iran has expanded its nuclear capabilities.
With the May 12 deadline set by President Trump for the U.S. and its allies to improve the Iran deal, the U.S. and its European allies have less than a month to agree on new provisions that can make the deal worth retaining.
During his Senate confirmation hearing this week, Pompeo said that the Trump administration prefers to amend the deal in a manner that would satisfy U.S. requirements, but the U.S. will consider other actions if it cannot be adequately improved.
In his words, “I want to fix this deal; that’s the objective. In the event that we conclude we can’t fix this deal … then the president is going to be given the best advice, including by me. If there’s no chance that we can fix it, I will recommend to the president that we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and a better deal.”
In his written testimony to the Senate, Pompeo noted that Iran’s illicit nuclear program is just one of many ways that Iran’s actions threaten America and its allies.
In his words, “We cannot let the nuclear file prevent us from acting against Iran’s cyber efforts or its attempts to provide missiles to the Houthis [in Yemen] to attack Saudi Arabia and Americans who travel there. Iran’s activities in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon threaten the very existence of Israel, and the global reach of Hezbollah threatens us right here in the homeland.”
Distressingly, one of the key parties blocking U.S. efforts to curb Iranian capabilities in all areas is one of America’s closest allies: Germany.
Although Germany is a member of NATO and is perceived as a loyal U.S. ally, in practice, Germany is one of Iran’s most powerful protectors and promoters.
For the past several weeks, administration officials have told reporters that Germany is selling Iran technology that Iran is using to help the Assad regime replenish its chemical weapons stocks.
Last week, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Germany’s Krempel Group provided components found on the Iranian rockets used by the Syrian regime in its chemical attack in Douma.
The German government refused to comment on Krempel’s apparent contribution to Assad’s deployment of chemical weapons against civilians.
As for the nuclear deal with Iran, according to administration officials involved in negotiations with the Europeans to amend the deal, Germany is the principle obstacle to substantive changes to the agreement.
According a report in the Washington Free Beacon, a U.S. official said that Germany refuses to agree to apply sanctions against Iran for its development of ballistic weapons.
Rather than sanctioning Iran for its ballistic missile development, which the administration has determined violates the spirit of the agreement as well as binding UN Security Council resolutions, according to the administration official, “the Germans say the West should simply keep waiving sanctions and offer to negotiate with Iran on its missile program by offering the regime more economic incentives in exchange for JCPOA-like concessions on the missiles.”
As for Hezbollah, Germany has stopped Europe from taking more decisive action.
As Benjamin Weinthal from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies has noted, Germany for years blocked efforts by European Union members, particularly the Netherlands, to label Hezbollah a terror group. Underpinning Germany’s behavior was an unspoken agreement with the terror group that Hezbollah can operate in Europe on condition that it doesn’t attack European targets.
Hezbollah breached that agreement in 2012 when it bombed an airport bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian national, and wounding 32 others. Following the bombing, which was quickly shown to have been the work of Hezbollah and Iran, the U.S. and Israel demanded that the EU label Hezbollah as a terror group and prohibit it from operating on EU territory.
But due to German obstruction, it took an entire year for the EU to act. And in the end, all it did was label Hezbollah’s “military wing” a terror group, while permitting its “political wing” to continue to operate in Europe. Given that in practice, there is no distinction between the two ostensible “wings,” the EU’s designation had no impact on the group’s operations.
According to Germany’s Federal Intelligence Agency, there are some 950 Hezbollah operatives in Germany. They operate out of Shiite Islamic centers, which double as recruitment centers for the organization. Other overt activities include holding demonstrations advocating “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) against Israel.
On the covert side, Hezbollah operatives and Iranian agents have been arrested in recent months in Germany scoping out Israeli and Jewish sites.
Hezbollah operatives in Germany operate in a similar fashion to the group’s agents in Latin America. Discussing Hezbollah operatives in the Western Hemisphere, in February the U.S. Military’s Southern Command assessed, “Lebanese Hezbollah maintains an established logistical, facilitating, fundraising and operational presence in this region that can be quickly leveraged with little or no warning.”
Despite the obvious danger Hezbollah’s operations in Germany manifest to Germany itself and to allied interests in Germany and throughout Europe, rather than shut them down, the German government protects them.
In part, Germany’s insistence on protecting Hezbollah and Iranian operations in Europe owes to its economic interests. In 2017, German trade with Iran rose 17 percent, from $3.2 billion to $4.3 billion. The vast majority of trade between Germany and Iran is German exports.
One of the chief excuses Germany gives for its protection of Iran and Hezbollah is that it doesn’t want to do anything to influence the outcome of the mordant “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians.
A State Department official told the Jerusalem Post that the Germans base their refusal to ban Hezbollah’s “political wing” on the claim that the Lebanese Shiite terror group’s operation “is linked to Israel-Palestinian peace talks.”
This position is notable for two reasons. First, Hezbollah operations in Germany have no relationship whatsoever to Israeli-Palestinian relations. Second, at the base of the German position is the notion that there is something fundamentally acceptable about murdering Israelis.
Assuming that the Germans believe this is a serious argument, it follows that hostility towards Israel is what informs Germany’s policies towards Iran and Hezbollah. This is extraordinary, given that both have stated openly and repeatedly their intention to annihilate the Jewish state.
Indeed, as Israel mourned the Holocaust on its Holocaust Remembrance Day last Thursday, a senior Iranian official again threatened to destroy Israel.
Ali Shirazi, Iranian dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Al Quds Brigade said, “If Israel wants to continue its treacherous existence it should avoid stupid measures. If they give excuses to Iran, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be destroyed. Iran can destroy Israel.”
Of course, the U.S. itself views with alarm Iran’s threats against Israel specifically and its nuclear weapons program generally. Not only is a nuclear-backed threat to commit genocide a serious one, a nuclear-armed Iran could easily instigate a new world war.
Alarmingly, in the midst of Germany’s malign efforts to protect Iran and Hezbollah from sanction while permitting them to operate throughout Europe, for the past seven months, the U.S. has been without an ambassador in Germany. Democrats in the Senate are blocking the confirmationof seasoned Republican diplomat Richard Grenell.
While the White House waits for the Senate to permit the U.S. to be represented by an ambassador, the Germans have broken a deal with the U.S. and Israel to permit Israel to run for a rotating UN Security Council seat unopposed. Germany shocked both Israel and the US by opting to run against the Jewish state in the June election. The move ensures, once again, that the Jewish state will be denied representation at the Security Council.
It bears noting that Germany’s central role in empowering Iran and Hezbollah undermines the central rationale of Germany’s postwar governance. For 70 years, the Federal Republic of Germany has insisted it learned the lessons of its past aggression and crimes against humanity.
After fomenting two world wars and carrying out the most egregious genocide in human history, the Germans insist they abjure aggression and take seriously their “special responsibility” to protect the Jewish state. But Germany’s treatment of Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand, and its treatment of Israel on the other hand, indicate that whatever lessons the Germans may have learned, they missed the two most important ones.
First: If you wish to prevent a world war, you shouldn’t empower forces that seek to initiate one.
And second: If you are committed to preventing evildoers from enacting another Holocaust, you shouldn’t enable evildoers committed to annihilating the Jewish state from acquiring the means to do so.
Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.