Until recently, when it came to taking a hard line against Iran, Germany was seen as less enthusiastic than other major European powers such as France and the UK.
Lately the German government seems to have shifted its position. This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to back tougher sanctions and the German giant Siemens stated that it will cut future trade with Tehran.
There are a number of factors which seemed to have compelled the Germans to review their position. One important factor was Iran’s rejection of the nuclear swap deal, offered by the US and EU in Vienna last year.
The deal offered to convert 75 per cent of Iran’s Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) into nuclear fuel for use at the Tehran Research Reactor. However, Iran refused the deal, which required it to ship all of the LEU in one batch, leaving just 25 per cent of it at home. This made many countries, including Germany, suspicious about Iran’s claims that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.
It also seemed to prove the point of those who said that Iran only wants talks for the sake of talks in order to delay sanctions and to buy time for its nuclear programme.
There is another important factor, and that is Iran’s influence in Afghanistan. Germany has 4,500 troops deployed in northern Afghanistan, as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is about to be supplemented by 850 troops.
Much to the anger of Germans, and other countries which have troops stationed there, it has recently been shown that Iran has been supplying weapons to al-Qaeda.
This convinced more decision-makers in Berlin that for a stable Afghanistan, Tehran must be confronted, and for now sanctions are the most convenient method of punishing Tehran.
Decision makers in Tehran will be surprised and impacted by Berlin’s anger. German products, especially engineering ones, are very popular and much sought-after by Iranian engineers. It will be difficult to replace them, especially since many Iranians call Chinese and Russian low quality alternatives bonjol, meaning “junk” in Persian.
Meanwhile, Berlin’s decision is likely to make the imposition of broad sanctions against Iran both more probable and powerful. And last but certainly not least, Germany’s anger is likely to increase the level of co-operation of its intelligence agency with countries such as Israel and the US.
The German BND is considered one of the most professional bodies in the business and any help it offers is likely to be warmly received.
Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli political analyst