German universities have established links with an Iranian institute that has ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, campaigners have said.
New Research by United Against Nuclear Iran has accused five establishments of having ties with the University of Religions and Denominations, whose current president has held positions in the IRGC.
The group has written to the University of Paderborn, the University of Potsdam, Free University Berlin, Goethe Frankfurt University and the University of Munster asking to them to explain their links to the Iranian university.
These have included joint inter-faith dialogue programmes, reciprocal delegation trips, and student exchanges, which the campaigners say has been funded by German taxpayers.
The campaigners say their research has unearthed evidence revealing Qom-based URD’s ties to terrorism, anti-Semitism and human rights breaches.
The group describes itself as a not-for-profit, non-partisan organisation formed to highlight the dangers posed by Iran.
Kasra Aarabi, its director of IRGC research, told The National he believed the German authorities need to investigate the Iranian institute’s links to universities.
“What’s particularly worrying is that clearly there has been a failure in the due diligence processes,” Mr Aarabi said.
“All this information is out there in plain sight. The URD has not even made a secret of its extensive affiliation to the IRGC and Hezbollah.
“There needs to be a full investigation by the German Federal Authorities because this looks like the tip of the iceberg.”
Mr Aarabi said it is known that the IRGC uses universities as part of its soft power operations in the West.
“In this context it would be about building relationships … to identify academics and students, in this case in Germany, that can act as their propagandists abroad,” he said.
“These relationships from their perspective provides them with an entry point into Germany.
“This poses a significant national security threat, not only to Germany’s national security as a whole, it poses a security threat to the German citizens, not least those from the Jewish community and Iranian diaspora community, who are the primary targets of the IRGC.
“The fact that German universities have official partnerships with the URD means the IRGC could be using and exploiting these partnerships as part of its covert operations in Germany. This is a serious possibility.”
The organisation has revealed ties between Swedish companies, including Volvo Trucks, and Iran.
This year it emerged that Iranian researchers linked to Tehran’s drone programme have developed technological upgrades for the equipment while working at leading British universities.
The group says the Iranian university’s president, Abdolhassan Navab, has been one of the heads of the IRGC’s ideological political organisation, with responsibility for indoctrination, and has ties to its Quds Force.
Dr Navab has communicated with senior figures in the Quds Force and in 2020 corresponded with its commander and late deputy commander, according to the campaigners.
Other members of the Qom-based university’s senior leadership, who make up the founding board and the board, also have ties to the IRGC, says the group.
They include a serving senior IRGC commander Mohammad Taqi Shahcheraghi, who has been on the board since November 2021.
A senior Quds Force commander was personally hosted on URD’s campus in an official capacity, it’s claimed.
According to the campaigners, the university also maintains direct links with Hezbollah.
It has hosted Naim Qassem, the Lebanese group’s second-in-command, on its campus, and has officially endorsed Hezbollah’s call for the eradication of Israel.
A member of the university’s founding board, Ayatollah Alireza Arafi, has open links with Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, with whom he has “consistently engaged and communicated”.
In its letter to the Free University Berlin’s president, the campaign group says the “institution has had long-standing contact and ties with the URD”.
The co-operation has included workshops, reciprocal student and academic delegation trips, and lectures, including one delivered by a one of the university’s academics at the Iranian university in July this year, say the campaigners.
“It is entirely inappropriate and unacceptable for Free University Berlin to have an official partnership with URD – not least on the basis of ‘inter-faith dialogue’ – when the president of URD was formerly the head of the IRGC’s IPO, which openly prescribes violence and intolerance,” says the group.
The Free University Berlin has been contacted for comment.
Paderborn University has admitted there was “co-operation from 2012 to 2021 with the aim of deepening the exchange between Christianity and Islam in order to develop a better mutual theological understanding”.
But the university said the co-operation agreement expired in 2021 and was not renewed.
The University of Potsdam said co-operation between it and the URD ended five years ago but “there are still occasional contacts when researchers from Qom are in Germany”.
In its response to the campaigners, Goethe University Frankfurt said it “is correct that there is a co-operation agreement between GUF and URD that dates back to 2012”.
It said it “is not a university-wide partnership, but an agreement that was explicitly designed for a limited research project by the implementing department”.
“From the perspective of 2012, this was associated with the hope of strengthening moderate and reform-oriented forces in Iran and promoting a gradual change in policy,” said the university.
“After initial successes, this hope was dashed at the latest with the failure of the nuclear deal.”
The University of Munster acknowledged to the group that its head of the Centre for Islamic Theology was once involved in a project funded by the German Research Foundation, which lasted from 2014 to 2016.
The exchange was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service and the Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, said the university.
It said it was “grateful” for the campaigners’ dossier on the Iranian university’s involvement with the IRGC, “of which we were unaware”.
Source » thenationalnews