Europe's unseemly haste to embrace Tehran

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. (Adem Altan / AFP)
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The ink had hardly dried on the Iran nuclear deal before European countries were racing to seal trade deals and reopen embassies. The mullahs have gone from zeroes to heroes in the blink of an eye. Forgotten are Tehran’s links to terrorists, attempts to overthrow Middle Eastern governments and mass gatherings organised to hurl insults and threats at the West.

Cast aside are concerns about Iran’s suppression of minorities, its dismal human rights record or its practice of stoning women. Iran has made no statements to the effect it is willing to change. On the contrary, its message throughout has been one of defiance. It has not been required to denounce terrorism let alone its participation in terrorist acts.

Iran’s crimes are suddenly of no consequence to Europe’s democracies; they have purposefully put their blinkers on and are literally queuing with their hands out to beat down Tehran’s golden doors. All they see now are flashing neon dollar signs. The Islamic Republic, soon to be flush with an US $80 billion-plus bonanza, is destined to become Europe’s latest cash cow.

I was extremely disappointed and saddened at Britain’s rush to reopen its Tehran embassy that has been closed for four years after coming under mob attack in November, 2011. I have always had great respect and admiration for the UK, which I consider it as my second home. This respect is based on my homeland’s historic ties with the UK and the principled stances taken by great leaders like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, who kept the "Great" in Britain, politically, militarily, industrially and economically.

I cannot imagine that those prime ministers, whose names remain engraved in world history to this day, grovelling before a country that five minutes earlier was their enemy, just to get their clutches on a fistful of dollars.

The UK’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, was the first to beat a track to Tehran. Naturally, he arrived with a trade delegation and took the opportunity to stress the “huge appetite” shown by British business for investment in Iran as well as the readiness of British banks to finance deals.

As the Iranian network Press TV has reported, Iran has recently hosted “a delegation of government ministers from Italy”, who has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to fund industrial, construction and infrastructure projects worth over 3 billion euro (Dh12.46bn). This comes on the heels of a visit by Germany’s minister for economic affairs and energy, Sigmar Gabriel, with a team of manufacturers, as well as visits from Austrian, Serbian, Swiss and Azerbaijani government officials. Spain is also champing at the bit to board the gravy train.

Moreover, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has been invited to visit Rome “in the coming weeks”. Mr Rouhani’s red carpet travel schedule is getting fuller by the day. Following a visit to Tehran by France’s minister of foreign affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius, accompanied by business leaders, he has been invited to visit the Elysees Palace in November. Russia and China, which have always been cosy with Tehran, are waiting in the wings with lucrative energy and weapons contracts at the ready.

No doubt president Barack Obama is rubbing his hands together awaiting his turn to get in on the action, delayed by pesky lawmakers who refused to take his word that his deal is the best thing that has happened since the invention of the wheel.

Iran and its Lebanese proxy in Lebanon, Hizbollah, have not changed. Nevertheless, America inexplicably saw it fit to remove those entities from its terror threat list, even as it is fighting to preserve Syria’s Killer-in-Chief and supporting a Houthi takeover of Yemen.

At least one senior Iranian official has gleefully announced his country’s continued support for “resistance” groups, which translated means their armed minions and spies targeting Arabian Gulf States. Who can blame Iran’s Arab neighbours for being rattled when a massive cache of weapons were recently discovered in Kuwait in the hands of a Hizbollah cell poised to create mayhem and bloodshed?

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International relentlessly points fingers at Arab states for taking measures to protect their peoples, but where are they now? They have become so politicised that it appears they are willing to give Iran a free pass so as not to spoil the party.

I am starting to wonder whether there is more to the nuclear deal, which permits Iran to carry out self-inspections of its suspect Parchin Military Complex, than meets the eye – especially when there are other secret agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency which the nuclear watchdog is legally bound not to disclose, even to the US and the other P5+1 countries. Believe that if you will.

In this case, one can only speculate about the existence of other secret arrangements between Iran and the Obama administration that has displayed unprecedented determination to ensure the deal passes muster with Congress and has gone to extreme lengths to persuade America’s long-standing Middle East allies to come on board, including invitations to the leaders of Gulf States to weekend talks at Camp David. Likewise, President Obama is trying, unsuccessfully, to bribe Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu into silence with a massive “military compensation package”.

The Shah of Iran may have sat on the Peacock Throne, but it is my bet that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei is strutting around like a peacock these days, his feathers plumped up by European sycophants and endless praise from US officials. He is getting everything for nothing. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure remains intact, uranium enrichment will be ongoing. Opening up some of the country’s nuclear facilities, barring military sites, to intrusive inspections for 10 years is just a mere inconvenience paling by comparison with the glittering rewards.

I warned again and again of the potential of a "grand bargain" being struck between the West and Iran many years ago, and now it is unfolding before our eyes. I recall Mr Obama saying the nuclear deal could possibly lead to normalisation of relations with Iran way into the future provided it sticks to its commitments. What is happening now makes a mockery of those cautious words.

Here is another prediction. Those Western leaders prostrating themselves before the Iranian leadership will live to rue the day. Enriched and emboldened, it is only a matter of time before Tehran strikes at their countries interests because its ideology and hatred for all things western are immutable.

The Arab world, in particular Iran’s closest neighbours, the Arabian Gulf states, must not only be alert to the coming danger, but should take a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book by erecting an impenetrable wall in terms of military, surveillance and intelligence capabilities, to keep Iran, its mercenaries and proxies far from our shores. If we are not careful, the West’s lust to bolster their failing economies will leave us hung out to dry.

Khalaf Al Habtoor is chairman of the Al Habtoor Group