A little over three months ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Israel that Germany works “shoulder to shoulder” with the Jewish state and seeks “to secure the future of the State of Israel.” Just last month, however, her government pulled the plug on a vital ship deal with Israel to safeguard its energy supplies in the Mediterranean.
Is Merkel retreating from her commitment to ironclad security for Israel? The broken deal sparked intense political finger-pointing between Israeli and German officials. From Israel’s point of view, Germany reneged on its assurance to deliver a discounted price for the ships.
The Federal Republic denied it had planned to contribute funding for the sale.
The seeds of Merkel’s decision appear to have been planted in the failed Israel-Palestinian peace talks, when she meted out discipline to the Netanyahu administration but did not penalize Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the dissolution of negotiations.
According to a May report in Defense News, a German diplomat said, “But surely the political issue has clouded the bilateral relation and some things are not progressing as smoothly as they should” – the “political issue” being the peace talks.
The unnamed diplomat – Israeli and German officials rarely go on the record with attribution – issued a feeble caveat that there was no direct linkage between the ship deal and the peace process.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that “the comment from a German diplomat linking his country’s guarantee of Israeli security to policy and political disagreements is very disturbing.” However, he continued, “the evidence of a basic decline in this special relationship is accumulating.
Germany has been increasingly infected by the wider European effort to impose simplistic peace myths on Israeli democratic processes. No sovereign state, and Israel in particular, can surrender its basic security decisions to another country.”
The collapsed ship deal centered on Israel purchasing the Meko A-100 combat vessel. The company that builds the Meko A-100 is the industrial and engineering giant ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems – the same company that provides second-strike Dolphin- class submarines to Israel. In an odd twist of commerce, Iran’s regime owns 4.5 percent of ThyssenKrupp.
According to Defense News, Israel sought to have Berlin cover some of the costs of the estimated $500 million purchase of four ships.
Israel has now reopened bidding for patrol ships.
On Sunday, Saba Farzan, the German-Iranian director of political studies at the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy, told the Post, “It is very concerning that this strategically important arms deal between Germany and Israel fell through. It would have been good for both of our countries, and I firmly believe that we, as Germans, should contribute funding to this ship deal, as it was part of the original draft.”
She asserted that Merkel had been “a staunch friend and reliable partner of the Jewish democratic state since the beginning of her political career.”
Farzan, who is based in Berlin, added that “the timing of this cancellation raises a concern if there’s a relation to the collapsed peace talks. If so, it would be extremely unfortunate and morally misguided. Because Israel shouldn’t be punished for a severe lack of democratic leadership on the Palestinian side unwilling to deliver a robust solution to this ongoing conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our arms dealing to support Israel’s security are two separate issues – one shouldn’t overlap with the other.”
In response to a Post press query, Israel’s embassy in Berlin declined to comment.
Israel sought the subsidy for the ships from the German government based on the “Israel-German special relationship.” In other words, if Merkel’s commitment to Israel’s security is “nonnegotiable” for her government, it should, from Israel’s perspective, express itself in defense and security matters.
Many German publications and commentators frequently avoid the disconnect between Merkel’s singling out Israel for the failed talks and leaving the PLO free from blame. Michael Borgstede, the Tel Aviv-based correspondent for the daily Die Welt, dodged the issue in his May report “Germany refuses war ship discount to Israel.”
The public row over the Meko A-100 combat ships suggests there are vastly different visions of what constitutes Merkel’s unconditional pledge to protect Israel’s security.
Linkage between the peace talks and Israel’s security evidently plays a key role for her.
The writer reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.