European governments pride themselves on being defenders of human rights, especially when Israel’s imagined violations of those rights are involved, but they have showed themselves to be indifferent to events in the Islamic Republic, where police have killed some 200 protestors in recent weeks. Instead, writes Eli Lake, Europe wants to extend Tehran an economic lifeline:
America’s European allies chose last weekend to announce that six more countries are joining a bartering system, known as Instex, designed to evade the U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden announced Saturday they were joining France, Germany, and the UK.
The dissonance of the moment for Europe was captured Monday in a tweet by the UK’s ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire. “Surprised by the tone of some reactions to this statement,” he wrote. “We continue to express concern about the human-rights situation in Iran. But Instex shows we will work to support trade—which benefits all Iranians—so long as the [Iran deal] continues.”
Those last two sentences . . . amount to the kind of feel-good cliché many Westerners have been using for decades to justify trade not just with Iran but with other repressive regimes. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Consider Iran’s banking crisis. Corruption and cronyism were causing bank failures as early as 2017—before President Donald Trump’s administration re-imposed the crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy. Investment in Iran too often goes to the regime’s elite, not those who suffer from its mismanaged economy.
But corruption is only part of the story. Iran also diverts its wealth to its foreign interventions. The U.S. State Department estimated in 2018 that Iran has spent $18 billion since 2012 in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, including paying the salaries of thousands of non-Iranian militia fighters. Iranians know this, too. A popular slogan among protesters is: “No Gaza, No Lebanon, Our Lives Are for Iran.”