After flying the Israeli flag over Foreign Ministry building:

Can Austria be trusted in the nuclear talks?

May 16, 2021 - 22:38

TEHRAN – In a highly controversial move, the Austrian government sided with Israel by flying the Israeli flag over a number of government offices, a move that smeared Austria’s international reputation and undermined trust in its ability to continue to be impartial venue for international events.

In the midst of the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people all across occupied Palestine, Austria suddenly grabbed the international headlines after it announced that the Israeli flag will be flown over government offices in a show of support for Israel.

In a statement sent to AFP, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz denounced the retaliatory attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israel, saying that he supports Israel in the face of these attacks. 

“Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks. To show our solidarity ... we have put up the Israeli flag,” on the chancellery and the Foreign Ministry, the statement added.”

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg also was keen to keep up with his young boss. “We strongly support the security of Israel,” he said. 

The Austrian position was met with a combination of anger and condemnation in the region. Iran and Turkey, which work hand-in-hand with other countries to stop the Israeli crimes against civilians in Palestine, both rejected the Austrian ill-advised move.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the Turkish presidency, criticized Kurz’s move, saying it will only encourage Israel to continue its attacks on the Palestinian people. 

“This is what encourages Israel to continue its attacks on Palestinian people,” Kalin said in a tweet, according to Anadolu Agency. “I hope those Austrians and Europeans with a sense of reason and morality will reject these disgraceful politics.”

Turkey's Vice President Fuat Oktay also denounced the Austrian position, saying it will tarnish the image of Kurz.

“With this attitude, the Austrian chancellor has put his signature under Israel's massacre in Gaza,” Oktay asserted. 

In Iran, the resentment was even more evident. Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, was shocked to see the Israeli flag fluttering over Austrian government offices. 

Araghchi, currently in Vienna to lead the Iranian negotiating team in the Vienna nuclear talks, expressed dismay at Austria’s decision to hoist the Israeli flag. 

“Vienna is the seat of IAEA & UN, and Austria so far [has] been a great host for negotiations. Shocking & painful to see flag of the occupying regime, that brutally killed tens of innocent civilians, including many children in just few days, over government offices in Vienna. We stand with Palestine,” he said on Twitter.

In the meantime, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was paying a visit to Spain on the first leg of a tour of several European countries including Austria. He was planning to visit Austria for bilateral talks. But the foreign minister canceled the visit at the last minute in protest over the Israeli flag display. 

The cancellation raised serious doubts about Austria’s reputation as a fair host for international meetings. Austria used to boast about its ability to build relations with all countries and play host to important international events such as the Iran nuclear negotiations. To be fair, Austria has been a capable partner in facilitating or at least playing host to some most important international events. But the continuation of this status hinges on Austria’s ability to avoid taking sides in international conflicts, especially those Austria has no real interest in embroiling itself in.

Araghchi gently reminded the Austrian government that he is conducting talks in Vienna when he said he voiced resentment at the display of the Israeli flag. Araghchi is holding important nuclear talks within a distance of a few meters away from the Austrian Foreign Ministry building. So, the Austrian government must have taken into the account the fact that the flag display would elicit pushback from Iran. 

Iran has every right to ponder over whether there has been an intention on the part of Austria to stymie progress in the talks. Israel has been doing everything in its power to derail the Vienna talks. The Israeli officials descended on Washington in the wake of the Biden administration’s decision to resume talks with Iran to dissuade it from entering talks with Iran but they failed to do so. 

Israel then began a campaign of harassment against the Palestinians in the West Bank, namely in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which resulted in the current tragic war on the Gaza Strip, one in which Israel killed a large number of children and women. Israel has sought to use this war to encourage the Biden administration into halting talks with Iran based on claims that Iran had supplied Gaza with rockets. So, is the Austrian government, wittingly or unwittingly, playing into the hands of the Israeli regime’s plan to undercut the Vienna talks? 

Regardless of the nuclear talks, Austria now risks being fallen into disrepute in the eyes of hundreds of millions across the globe for its support for an armed-to-the-teeth regime cold-bloodedly killing civilians and putting the lives of journalists in grave danger.