For twenty-seven years, the German Republic was on friendly terms with Iran, maintaining good technological, military and intelligence relations with the revolutionary Islamic Republic. Iranian officials and businessmen felt comfortable conducting their European dealings out of Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich. Their German counterparts saw in Iran a promising market for their technological and military products although some firms were deterred by the American boycott.
The German intelligence official Ernst Uhrlau, recently appointed head of the German Federal Intelligence Service – BND, was one of the few favored Western guests of the Islamic Republic and made welcome by pro-Iranian groups such as Hizballah. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder strongly opposed Washington’s Iran policies and joined Moscow’s positive approach to the ayatollahs.
All this changed at the end of 2006 because of three factors.
1. On July 31, as the Israel-Hizballah war raged, two Lebanese citizens planted bombs on two trains at Cologne station, an attempted copycat operation of the March 2004 Madrid rail bombings. The bombs, found later in the day on trains at Koblenz and Dortmund stations, failed to explode because of faulty detonators. The suspects were arrested by the Lebanese authorities.
German intelligence is still baffled as to the hand behind the attempt. The first leads indicated individual enterprise, later al Qaeda in Syria and North Lebanon and, most recently, a combination thereof plus elements linked to the al Qods Brigades of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
German intelligence is clear on one thing.
Germany has been added to the world map of major terrorist targets in Europe.
When Ernst Uhrlau visited Ankara in March, he did not share with his hosts at the Turkish National Intelligence Organization – MIT, Berlin’s conviction that Iraq and Lebanon are now credible sources of future terrorist attacks on Germany that may well be orchestrated from Tehran.
2. A second factor souring Berlin-Tehran relations is Germany’s proactive participation in the expanded UNIFIL peacekeeping operation set up in South Lebanon in August 2006 under UN resolution 1701. In September, Berlin sent a naval force to secure Lebanon’s territorial waters and prevent arms smuggling by sea. The German contingent is the only member of the international force which takes the resolution’s injunctions against illicit arms transfers seriously. DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals two secret steps Berlin has taken to uphold them.
Merkel offers Siniora a shared operation against border arm-smuggling
In mid-January, a German military mission was posted unannounced along the Lebanese-Syrian border between the village of Marida in the north and Mt. Hermon in the south to monitor illegal arms traffic from Syria and Iran for Hizballah. The team was composed of German intelligence and ordnance officers.
This is what they found: The border is wide open with no obstacle holding up Iranian and Syrian transfers to Hizballah, which consist mainly of various types of surface missiles, recoilless cannons and Katyusha rockets. The German observers noted large Iranian arms depots close to the Syrian-Lebanese border out of which supplies were loaded up on the convoys.
When Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Beirut on April 2, she laid this evidence before prime minister Fouad Siniora and proposed establishing a German-Lebanese military command to seal the border to smugglers. She offered German funding, radar and sensors to enable the special anti-smuggling unit to detect incoming illicit arms freights on their approach to the Lebanese border. The German leader suggested a three-month pilot run, after which German and Lebanese experts would see where the system could be improved.
Siniora welcomed the plan, although he explained he would need United Nations backing to bring it to fruition.
As for Germany, the activation of the scheme at an estimated date in May will most certainly establish a point of friction between Berlin and Tehran on the Syrian-Lebanese border. Iran would be furious with the Merkel government for intervening in its connections with Hizballah.
3. In her last trip to Washington in mid-March, Chancellor Merkel was extremely pessimistic about Iran’s intentions. According to the intelligence reaching her office, once Iran was in possession of long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Europe from Iran or Lebanon, the Islamic rulers will not hesitate to attack Germany. She told President George W. Bush, they would want to settle scores with Berlin over the German operation in Lebanon, its troops’ participation in the NATO force in Afghanistan, their presence in Iraq, and Berlin’s funding for two new Dolphin submarines commissioned by the Israeli Navy (plus an optional third).
Tehran regards these Israeli submarines as a strategic threat.
In Washington, and later in Jerusalem, Merkel discussed Germany’s integration in the US anti-missile shield planned for Europe with Israeli anti-missile missile components.