While Iran shoots protesters, Europe schemes to enrich the murderers

Tehran’s violence against demonstrators is the worst in 40 years. Yet Europeans chose this week to double down on an effort to evade U.S. sanctions.

E.U. High Representative Federica Mogherini with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif before P5+1 nations resume nuclear talks in Switzerland in 2015. Credit: U.S. State Department.
E.U. High Representative Federica Mogherini with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif before P5+1 nations resume nuclear talks in Switzerland in 2015. Credit: U.S. State Department.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The news out of Iran should shock the conscience of the world. As The New York Times reported in a front-page article published on Monday, when Iranians tried to protest their government’s arbitrary decision to drastically raise gasoline prices, the regime responded with unprecedented force. Throughout the country, security forces, including units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, have opened fire on unarmed citizens. According to the Times, in the first two weeks of the protests, anywhere from 180 to 450 persons have been killed, with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 persons arrested. This dwarfs the violence that took place in 2009, when a stolen election led large numbers of Iranians out to the streets.

The news of what amounts to a case of mass murder on the part of the Islamist rulers of Iran has trickled out slowly due to the regime’s decision to create an Internet blackout throughout the country. But as corroborating accounts have become known in the West, the scope of the killings can no longer be denied.

But perhaps just as shocking as the deaths ordered by the clerics who rule Iran is the reaction from Western Europe. The United States has strongly condemned the violence and vowed to step up the pressure it has exerted to force the Iranian regime to both renegotiate the nuclear deal it struck with the West and also change its behavior towards both its own people and those of neighboring countries. Europe, however, is not only signaling its lack of interest in the unrest inside Iran; it is also doubling down on efforts to keep Western cash flowing to Tehran in order for the regime to continue to maintain its hold on power.

Indeed, just as the confirmation of the scale of the violence became clear, six more countries joined a new consortium aimed at evading U.S. sanctions on the rogue regime. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden announced their decision to participate in the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, or INSTEX. The group, whose founding members are Great Britain, France and Germany, is an attempt to create a pathway to trade with Iran based on the barter of goods and services. In theory, these countries will now be able to carry on trade with Tehran without the use of U.S. dollars or involvement with the U.S. financial system.

That sounds innocuous, but its real purpose is to allow Iran to go on selling oil. Participants say they are doing this to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that was sold to the world as a way to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. But since it merely postponed an Iranian bomb and made such a catastrophe eventually inevitable, these excuses don’t pass muster.

What Europe wants is not a way to preserve peace or to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. What it wants is a way to keep profiting from a relationship with a brutal regime that is not only oppressing its own people, but remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

The venal nature of this scheme is not in question. European nations and businesses expected President Barack Obama’s pact with Iran to result in a Tehran gold rush for entrepreneurs and investors. They had no interest in nonproliferation or the danger that Iran’s quest for regional hegemony posed to the Middle East, or even the way it ruthlessly used terrorism to pursue its goals around the globe. What they wanted was a way to profit from a market that had been largely ignored by the West since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

But the gold rush never materialized, in large measure because many investors were rightly wary of becoming economic hostages to the ayatollahs. No investment—let alone the personal safety and freedom of those involved in trade with Iran—could be considered safe in a country where the rule of law doesn’t exist.

Just as important, U.S. sanctions that had been passed by Congress remained in place, even if the Obama administration was no longer enforcing them.

Once Trump pulled America out of the nuclear deal, he began reimposing and tightening sanctions that posed a particular challenge to Europeans, who were still lusting after Iran’s cash. Though Obama and his media “echo chamber” had claimed that the United States could never successfully enforce sanctions on Iran by itself without the permission of Europe, Trump quickly debunked that prediction. Faced with a choice of cutting off ties with the largest economy in the world or chasing a profit in Tehran, most have wisely decided not to mess with the Americans.

Western Europeans hope to evade U.S. sanctions with a barter system, though few financial experts think that it can work effectively to provide Iran with a reliable conduit to sell their oil.

Even if it was a viable option, what the Europeans are doing is essentially sending money to the same people, including the IRGC that also runs much of the Iranian economy, who are killing people in the streets and financing terrorists. Like the nuclear deal, which led to the United States sending Iran plane loads of palettes of cash and other foreign exchange, INSTEX is a lifeline for a tyrannical regime. The nuclear pact enriched and empowered the ayatollahs. INSTEX seeks to keep them in power by the same means, enabling them to go on shooting and torturing their own people, while threatening other nations like Israel.

Many supporters of Obama’s deal who are critical of Trump’s decision often like to pose as human-rights advocates when it comes to criticizing Israel, yet they are strangely silent about the atrocities going on in Iran. Perhaps just as outrageous as that hypocrisy is the willingness of supposedly enlightened Western Europe to try to prop up the Islamist regime with INSTEX just at the time when decent people should be doing all they can to isolate it.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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