Analysis: Does Germany's pro-Iran deal diplomatic offensive endanger Israel?

Germany’s diplomatic corps launched a pro-Iran deal lobbying campaign to sway Americans by invoking its pledge to guarantee Israel’s security.

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August 8, 2015 20:31
4 minute read.
April 24

German Chancellor Angela Merkel commemorates the centenary of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces, during a regular session of the German lower house of Parliament, April 24. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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BERLIN – Germany’s diplomatic corps has embarked on a pro-Iran deal lobbying campaign, attempting to sway Americans by invoking Berlin’s guarantee of Israel’s security. The No. 2 German diplomat in the US, Philipp Ackermann, whipped up some hyperbolic rhetoric to justify his country’s approval of the nuclear pact.

Congressional rejection of the accord would be a “nightmare” and a “catastrophe,” Politico reported him saying. “We are convinced that this deal makes Israel safer. It is really our conviction that Israel comes out safer as a result of this deal.”

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Ackermann cited the “special relationship” between Israel and Germany as another reason for Americans to endorse the agreement. The use – or arguably misuse – of the so-called German-Israel special relationship has parallels to the holier-than-thou attitude among many Germans who have “worked through” their Nazi history toward Israel. The German writer Wolfgang Pohrt described the phenomenon as Germans acting as Israel’s probation officers, to prevent “their victims from relapsing.”

German didacticism in connection with the lesson of the Holocaust turns history on its head. According to this viewpoint, Jews as victims should have learned lessons from the Shoah like the Germans did as the perpetrators.

Does Germany’s pro-nuclear-deal campaign represent the diplomatic version of this perspective, an expression of its belief that it knows better than Israel how to guarantee the survival of the Jewish state? Given that the entire political spectrum in Israel vehemently opposes the Iran deal, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration is in an awkward position.

To be fair, Germany supplies Israel with advanced second-strike Dolphin-class submarines. Foreign media report that the sophisticated vessels can be armed with nuclear weapons.

From Israel’s perspective, there is solid reason to be skeptical of Berlin’s assurances. Germany’s foreign policy has had a rocky history and poor results. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s efforts to end Russian jingoism in eastern Ukraine have failed.

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In atypically non-diplomatic language, Steinmeier told German broadcaster ARD, “This is a responsible deal and Israel should also take a closer look at it and not criticize the agreement in a very coarse way.”

In response, Israel’s embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post, “Federal Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated in the ARD interview that certain issues are not to be discussed in public, as is common practice among amicable partners. Along the same lines, what we have to convey to our German partners, we also express directly and not through the media.”

To put Germany’s diplomatic assault on Israel in Realpolitik terms, this might reflect the precept, to quote Sir Henry Wotton’s famous line from 1604, that “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

The case that Ackermann makes is not new, but it is openly opposed to Israel’s wishes. Germany’s efforts to secretly circumvent the elected government of its “special partner” – the Jewish state – surfaced during the first Obama administration. Merkel’s senior foreign policy adviser Christoph Heusgen told the US, according to WikiLeaks, that to change Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior, linkage should be created between “favorable UNSC [Security Council] treatment [from Jerusalem’s point of view] of the Goldstone Report [on the January 2009 Gaza war] and Israel committing to a complete stop in settlement activity.” The US ambassador to Germany at the time, Philip Gordon, termed Heusgen’s idea “counterproductive.”

Israeli diplomats have told the Post over the years that Heusgen is not favorably inclined toward Jerusalem.

One additional telling example of diplomacy against Israel: Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the US and the head of the annual Munich Security Conference, frequently circulates public letters to the EU’s head of foreign policy calling on the 28-nation body to sanction Israel.

The silent 800-pound economic gorilla in the room of German-Israel relations remains Berlin’s desire to revive its $5 billion annual trade relationship with Iran. Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel traveled to Iran in July. Gabriel led a 60-person delegation, including leaders of top German companies.

Martin Herrenknecht, founder of Herrenknecht AG, which manufactures “state of-the-art deep drilling rigs that drill down to a depth of 6,000 meters,” was part of the Gabriel trip. “I am glad to help you with my tunnel boring machines,” Herrenknecht told the mayor of Isfahan, according to the Die Welt daily.

Heavy earth-moving equipment raises eyebrows for observers of Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, largely because it can be used to build underground facilities like the Fordow nuclear site buried deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.

As the United States, the world’s oldest democracy, fiercely scrutinizes and debates the Iran nuclear pact, Ackermann proudly declared: “In Germany there is no debate on this deal. Not in parliament and not in civil society.”

The German-Israel special relationship shows its limits.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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