Emily Sieg, Staff Writer
Ideology: Social Democrat | Writing from: Washington, DC
A little over a year ago in March of 2008 Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Israel to speak before the Knesset, highlighting the special relationship between the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel. Merkel asserted that she, just as all preceding chancellors of federal Germany, was obliged to ensure the security and protection of Israel. Although the speech initially drew sharp criticism from Binyamin Netanyahu as a result of Merkel’s determination to hold the speech in German instead of English, the relationship between Chancellor Merkel and now-Prime Minister Netanyahu has aided the especially intimate bond between the two states. In fact the BBC has even dubbed Germany as Israel’s ‘staunchest ally in Europe,’ and, indeed, Germany is Israel’s third largest trading partner after the United States and China. Furthermore, while the diverse party system of Germany tends to lead to disagreement on almost all government policies, Israel is certainly a special case. As Jerzy Montag [Green Party], head of the German-Israeli parliamentary committee, has stated, ‘We can disagree about politics – and we actually should – but in reference to our relationship to Israel there should be no dispute among democrats in Germany.’ To ensure the longevity of German-Israeli cooperation joint-cabinet meetings will now take place once a year. The second such meeting, and first in Berlin, was held Monday.
Of many potentially controversial topics, Iran was the focus of the meeting. While Netanyahu has asserted the claim that a nuclear-free Iran is fundamental to its security, it still must be an awkward moment for Chancellor Merkel when Netanyahu makes such statements as, ‘It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.’ Nevertheless, Merkel has called for further sanctions against Iran to be organized by the UN Security Council.
The Palestinian question barely bubbled to the surface amongst the excitement over Iran. Chancellor Merkel was willing to exercise some criticism of settlements in the West Bank, but she was reluctant to take any harsh tones. Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his view that Israel is ready for a new peace plan and that hopefully the Palestinians are too. To help facilitate negotiations, Merkel has invited Mahmud Abbas to Germany this February. While Netanyahu might be making surprisingly more Labor-like statements regarding peace, this was not the venue for such discussions.
Beyond Netanyahu and Merkel, the German-Israeli relationship shows some rifts. During Netanyahu’s visit to Germany, Kadima, a centrist party, held a vote of no confidence in the Knesset due to ‘failing foreign policy,’ with particular reference to Germany. The vote was boycotted by other Knesset members and correspondingly there were no votes against it, but also not enough in favor to alleviate Netanyahu of his office. And in addressing Iran, some Israelis find Merkel’s support of sanctions surprising, given the fact that Germany is Iran’s most prominent trading partner in Europe. On the other side of the coin, demonstrators in Germany criticized Israel’s inhumane treatment of Gazans and demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners who had not been involved in political violence. Furthermore, there has been worry over Merkel’s response to questions of further German arms deliveries to Israel and the potential gift of a sixth Dolphin-class submarine, which Germany produces and many claim can easily be converted to carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles. Angela Merkel simply claimed that, ‘Armament cooperation is not left out.’ It seems that while there may be no disputes among democrats in Germany whether Israel should be supported, there certainly are concerns about the extent to which Germany should arm and support the Jewish State.
The German determination to help arm the Israelis may prove more important in the future. While Merkel is most emphatic towards a UN-sanctions method of addressing Iran, there is reason to question whether that is Israel’s preferred method. Sanctions are certainly high on the list, as Netanyahu claims that Iranian citizens will blame their own government and not the international community for the sanctions. The recent oppositional movements in Iran have been cited as signs of widespread civilian unrest, which could be brought to revolutionary action by sanctions.
However, regarding Iranian nuclear capabilities, Israel has stated that Iran could have the ability to create nuclear weapons within months. If this is to be the case, then sanctions would probably come too late and therefore one should expect to see Israel develop alternatives. Israeli preventative measures, as seen in 1981 and 2007 in Iraq and Syria respectively are currently seen as outdated. The Iranians certainly learned from the Osiraq example that nuclear facilities, which are not spread out or hidden, are susceptible to Israeli air raids. If the point was not made in 1981, then the 2007 example of a suspicious Syrian facility gone up in smoke should have driven the message home. The squadron leader of Israel’s attack against the Osiraq facility, Zeev Raz, has certainly expressed his doubts. According to Raz, the nuclear facilities in Iran are spread out, some buried and the likelihood of sites unknown to the Israelis is high. Some say that 2010 is the ‘year of decision,’ but no one really knows what those decisions could be. An attack based on Osiraq would be ineffective, but an unresponsive Israel seems impossible. And the relative silence of Netanyahu’s cabinet certainly seems out of character, as Israeli officials tend to advertise the extents to which they will defend their country.
Yesterday’s meeting between Israel and Germany was a reiteration of cooperation and support not to mention joint-concern over Iran. While it is virtually unthinkable that Germany would have anything to do with more than UN-sanctioned action against Iran, Germany’s special relationship to the Jewish State often leaves little room for sincere critique against Israeli policy. As Iran continues to pursue their nuclear plans, it should prove most interesting how Israel intends to counteract those pursuits and how Germany – and even the EU as a whole – will react to Israel. Doubtless, 2010 holds many surprises for us yet.
Correction: This article originally referred to the Federal Republic of Germany as the “Republic of Germany.” The Politicizer regrets the error.