These are happy times for European nations eager to do business with Iran. The end of the international sanctions mandated by the Iran nuclear deal has set off a gold rush of European concerns eager to get in on the action as the Islamist state reenters the global economy. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is on what might well be termed a victory tour of the continent, announcing vast deals with both Italy and France. But these transactions are not merely signaling the end of restrictions on doing business with Iran but an insurance policy against any possible re-imposition of sanctions, no matter how flagrantly it violates the nuclear deal or traffics in international terrorism.
The rush to dive into the Iranian economy by European businesses and nations is reminiscent of the way the nuclear deal was negotiated by President Obama and America’s Western allies. Though Iran’s need for a deal that would end the sanctions was far greater than anything the West might get out of an agreement, during the course of the talks, the concessions all went in one direction. Obama’s team discarded Western principles and promises about definitively ending the Iranian threat one by one until what was left was a flimsy arrangement that not only guaranteed the permanence of their nuclear program but also was scheduled to end within a decade.
Now rather than understand that the collapse of oil prices and Iran’s desperation for more cash puts them in a strong bargaining position, Europe is falling over itself to lavish Tehran with billions of dollars in transactions on advantageous terms. The Italians are striking deals to strengthen Iranian industries across the board including energy, steel, and shipbuilding. The French are selling Iran their Airbus jets that will essentially upgrade Tehran’s commercial fleet for the first time in decades. But those deals are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of an Iran gold rush as European investors head to Iran in great numbers hoping to get in on the ground floor of a revived Iranian economy.
But there are some basic problems with these deals that the Europeans are ignoring.
In terms of their own interests, the Europeans are forgetting a cardinal rule of international business. Anyone who pours money into a nation where the rule of law is merely a function of the whims of an authoritarian government is engaging in a form of gambling, not a rational investment. Doing business in Iran means putting your money in the hands of an Islamist state and, more often than not, at the mercy of state-run entities that do not play by the normal rules of global commerce let alone fair play. It also often means getting into bed with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an international terror group that also operates as a business conglomerate in Iran.
But in terms of the goals of the Iran deal, the rush to normalize relations with Iran is a virtual guarantee that the promises made by the Obama administration about “snapping back” sanctions or holding Tehran accountable for violations is not to be taken seriously. Had the sanctions been rolled back over a long period, forcing Iran to show not only compliance with the weak terms of the deal but to reform its behavior with regard to support for international terrorism or its efforts to produce ballistic missiles, there might have been some hope that the new arrangement might work. But the indecent haste with which the U.S. rushed to end the sanctions ahead of schedule and the manner in which Europe has embraced Iran has granted the Islamic Republic virtual impunity. With so many billions invested in Iran via deals that are financed by their own banks, the Europeans will never agree to punish Iran again no matter what it does.
This paves the way not merely for cheating on the nuclear deal that is already set up to make Iran a threshold nuclear power but also to give it the freedom to invest as much of their windfall in missiles for Hezbollah or helping Hamas dig more tunnels under the Israeli border.
We can expect pressure to build on the U.S. to stop enforcing American sanctions that are still on the books. Those regulations make it illegal for companies sending money to Iran to use American banks. So long as the U.S. continues to label Iran a “state sponsor of terror,” that won’t be possible. But, as President Obama has shown on other issues, his unwillingness to enforce laws that he doesn’t like means anything is possible.
President Obama said it would be impossible to ask Iran to change its ways; whether its support for terror, its desire to destroy Israel, or its quest for regional hegemony and still get a nuclear deal. So he chose to ignore every other issue in pursuit of détente with Iran. But as we now see, Iran not only has no incentive to change, its business ties with Europe mean that it can spread terror while also being enriched by the West.
In striking this deal with the devil, the West hasn’t bought security or even credible assurances about Iran’s nuclear project. What it has done is to give a terror-supporting regime the kind of economic boost that gives it the ability to do as it likes without fear of any Western response. As such, the question of whether the Europeans are making wise investments is trivial when compared to one about the end of any hope of restraining Iran’s aggressive ambitions.