Nov. 3 Remarks to the Europe Israel Congress

Ambassador Grenell at the European Israel Congress #EIC19 in Frankfurt
Amb. Grenell at the European Israel Congress #EIC19 – Photo: CG Frankfurt

Thank you all for having me. It’s an honor to participate in the 1st European Israel Congress. Providing networking and training opportunities for pro-Israel leaders in Europe is vitally important.

Especially at a time when there are multiple threats to Israeli and European security, we must ensure our threat perception remains high.  So I want to thank you on behalf of all Americans, for whom Europeans and Israelis are not just allies but our closest friends.

I thought I’d introduce today’s proceedings by talking about the issue where European, Israeli, and American security interests all converge. That issue is Iran.

We all know two things about Iran. One is that antisemitism is hardwired into the Iranian regime.

The other is that the regime seeks to dominate the Middle East.

We hardly ever think of these two facts as being directly connected. But they are. In fact, the regime’s anti-Israel rhetoric and policy cannot be separated from its destabilizing regional behavior.

The Iranian regime’s commitment to the destruction of Israel is of course informed by vicious antisemitism. But hatred alone does not explain it. There is something else.

Iran is a Shia power which seeks to dominate a region which is majority Sunni. In order to legitimize expanding its power among Sunnis, Iran believes it must be seen as the one legitimate leader of anti-Zionist resistance.

The Iranian regime routinely promises to wipe Israel off the map, not merely because it hates Jews, but because it believes this policy will help garner support for its desire to dominate the region.

And the security of that region is vital to European, Israeli, and American interests.

Preventing a single country from taking control of the region’s oil supply and shipping routes has been a central objective of American foreign policy for over seventy years.

The protection of these interests, on which Europe and much of the global economy depend, has been guaranteed by American power. As you have seen, we are willing to use that power it in order to block Iran’s ambitions, and to support Israel against an existential threat

U.S. sanctions have been an effective way to prevent the Iranian regime from usurping the benefits of global trade for its own malign purposes. We are denying them the money and resources they require to fund global terror.

European Commission figures show that trade between EU member states and Iran in the first half of 2019 dropped to a quarter of its volume when compared to the same period last year.

In Berlin, where I live, I made it clear early on that German companies can do business in the U.S., or business with the Iranian regime. But they cannot do business with both.

The CEOs I speak with understand this clearly, and now we see German companies acknowledging that under the current regime, Iran is not a viable market for them.

In the first six months of 2019, German exports to Iran dropped by half.

Our unprecedented effort to stop Iranian oil sales to Europe and around the world has denied the Iranian regime revenue needed to fund its terrorism and destabilizing activity.

Under increased economic pressure, Iran continues to reduce its military budget. Its 2019-2020 budget proposal called for a reduction of 28 percent in defense spending, including a 17 percent cut to the IRGC.

This is a great start, but only a start. We must remain vigilant.

Primarily through the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Iran conducts worldwide terrorist plotting, attacks, and assassinations. In the last year, Iran-backed terror plots were foiled in France and Denmark.

Our European partners pushed back after these attacks.  In January, the European Union sanctioned Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and two of its agents for their roles in these activities.

We were particularly pleased that Germany took an additional action, recognizing the role of Iranian airline Mahan Air in facilitating IRGC support for the Assad regime, and shut down the airline’s operations in Germany. Soon after this successful move, the French government followed with the same ban.

The United States would like to see more action from our European partners to recognize the dangers posed by Iranian proxies, including Hizballah. Right now, this is my biggest priority as ambassador, and it remains one of the top priorities for the Trump Administration as a whole.

That is the reason we are urging Germany to take action at the national level to ban the entirety of Hizballah.

While we would like to eventually see the EU designate the entirety of Hizballah as a terrorist organization, individual European countries should not and do not have to wait for Brussels to do what clearly should be done.

The United States designated Hizballah in 1997, and it’s time our European allies do the same. We must deny any space to terrorists who threaten Israel, perpetuate Assad’s war crimes, and contribute to the massive refugee flow which Europeans are still being forced to manage.

All of this helps explain why the United States withdrew from the JCPOA in 2017. That deal did not address our concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, or its destabilizing actions in the region.

The frequency of Iran’s missile launches did not decrease after the implementation of the agreement in 2016, and the regime is in open violation of the deal’s terms, exceeding the uranium enrichment threshold and restarting research into advanced centrifuge development.

Our withdrawal from the deal has received an enormous amount of support from our Gulf Arab and Israeli allies who live in the region. The nuclear program, like its commitment to destroy Israel, cannot be separated from Iran’s regional behavior.

At this point in history, stopping Iran and supporting Israel are in many important ways the same thing. Both are priorities for all of us who believe in peace, democracy, and freedom.

I wish you all the best of luck in the fight ahead. Thank you for having me.