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Must it be Business as Usual as the People of Iran Hang in the Balance?


Nobody wants a military confrontation with Tehran's nuclearizing Mullahtocracy. It's not only the immense oil resources or it's strategic Persian Gulf position. After an election that would make Tammany Hall blush, it's now clear to the whole world that millions of Iran's citizens despise -- not embrace -- the Khameni-Ahmadinejad Armageddon-laced Kool Aid. With Human Rights NGOs suffering from selective laryngitis and the Media reduced to deciphering dueling twitters, everyone-even the G8-agree that "something must be done" to stop Tehran from going nuclear. Hence, even the Obama Administration -- which originally favored talks "without preconditions" -- has been moving, reluctantly but inexorably, toward adoption of "get tough measures."

But can sanctions work? And does the average citizen have role to play beyond gasping at Facebook and You Tube postings from Iran?

One of the most important obstacles to the success of any tough new sanctions regime is Munich-based Siemens AG, the conglomerate that's the linchpin of Germany's export-oriented cartels. Siemens has never met a fanatic Mideast regime it wasn't happy to do business.

Before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein acquired from Siemens computers and other equipment useful for processing uranium to nuclear-weapons grade as well as electrical equipment for one of Iraq's main missile sites. Subsequently, an UN-appointed panel identified Siemens and Volvo among the biggest bribers diverting $1.8 billion to Saddam during the oil-for-food program, though Siemens piously denied any involvement.

Equally happy to play the Iranian side of the street, Siemens was an original contractor for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, before backing out after the 1979 Revolution. Despite this, the German conglomerate made a seamless transition from the Shah to Ayatollah, becoming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's favorite one-stop shop for the purchase of electronic surveillance and warfare technology.

Major attention last year was focused on Switzerland's and Austria's mega gas deals with Iran-the underdeveloped natural gas industry is Tehran's Achilles' heel. The Austrian Stop the Bomb Coalition won the support Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel for threatening a boycott campaign against OMV which is 31 percent-owned by the Austrian government. But beyond Austria's "moral responsibility to fight the Iranian threat," it is Germany-led by practitioners of "exports uber alles" like Siemens-that is Iran's biggest trading partner in the EU with exports of 4 billion euro to the Islamic Republic during 2007. "When Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet ministers attended a joint session with the Israeli cabinet in Jerusalem and spoke about their commitment to Israel's continued existence," noted Hamburg University's Dr. Matthias Kuntzel, "German companies were continuing to do business with Iran. There can be no greater hypocrisy."

No one then should have been shocked at the front page revelations in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that Siemens' joint venture, Nokia Siemens Network, sold the mullahs "deep-pocket inspection" technology that, during the post-election protests, was used not only to block web site access and sever cyberspace connections, but to monitor and alter for disinformation purposes individual user's Internet phone calls and Facebook and Twitter messages. Iran's government-run Telecommunications Infrastructure Co. enjoys centralized "choke point" control of all Internet traffic that's the envy of Chinese censors developing their own repressive "Great Firewall" against unimpeded political communication through cyberspace.

U.S. Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) have introduced legislation to ban Siemens and other companies that enable Iran's technocratic shock troops to use spytech on protesters from obtaining U.S. government contracts. They also urged the Obama Administration to press the EU nations at the G-8 Summit to European countries from doing business with Iran.

Let's hope the bill passes and President Obama signs it quickly. But for there to be any real hope for meaningful change in how the Siemens' of the world do business it's up to all of us to activate the Internet Age adage to "act locally while thinking globally." This means that our citizen lobbies and elected representatives -- not only in Washington but also in places like Sacramento and Los Angeles -- have to ask this simple question: do we have to do business with people who do business with the Mullahs?

The answer may not be so simple because Siemens USA boasts about employing over 70,000 Americans. Siemens does extensive business with the State of California. Customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power receive a rebate up to 85 percent on the cost of purchasing solar equipment manufactured by Siemens, which bought out ARCO's solar business.

We rely on them for jobs -- but they rely on us for contracts -- which gives us leverage.

Looking for straight answers from Germany? In a recent response to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Siemens continued to stonewall behind its own "firewall" of denial. In fact, it flaunted its unconcern over repercussions by declaring: "We continue to have no reason to conclude that our existing shareholders or potential new investors, taken as a whole, consider our involvement in these three countries, [Iran, Syria, and Cuba] . . . as a factor that affects our reputation or our share value adversely."

Til now, Siemens has succeeded in hiding behind the fog of our ignorance. So to clear the air-and send a clear signal to friend and foe in Iran-let's give Siemens and all other companies propping up the Mullahs a simple choice: Do Business with them -- OR us.

Historian Harold Brackman, a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center contributed to this essay.

Follow Rabbi Abraham Cooper on Twitter: www.twitter.com/simonwiesenthal