Israel will not entrust its security to the hands of "strangers" and will do "everything needed" to protect its citizens if war is forced upon it, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi warned on Monday, during a speech in Berlin that contained a veiled reference to Iran.
Ashkenazi spoke mostly in Hebrew at a Holocaust memorial situated on platform 17 of the GrÃ¼newald train station, which commemorates the forced deportations of Jews to Nazi concentration camps. He was accompanied by the commander of the Bundeswehr (German Federal Defense Force), Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan.
Alluding to repeated comments by Iranian leaders calling for Israel's destruction, Ashkenazi said, "Today, 64 years after the last train led Jews from this platform to death camps, and 61 years after the Jewish homeland was founded, anti-Semitism refuses to disappear from the world. It changes its face, language, path and justifications, but its aim remains the same. Today, state leaders openly declare their desire to destroy the State of Israel, and deny the right of the Jewish people to national sovereignty.
"The Jewish nation renewed itself in its land, and is committed to its independence and security. The IDF, the protector of the Jewish nation, is not a warmongering military, but a defensive military. We do not relish combat, but, if war is forced upon us, we will do all that is necessary so that Israeli citizens can sit safely in their homes. No one should test our power," Ashkenazi said.
"The cry of our Jewish brothers and sisters who marched into train cars, led, beaten and humiliated, echoes to this day," he said.
"We are obligated never to underestimate those who plot to harm us, never to entrust our security to the hands of strangers, and not to allow anyone to control the future of the Jewish people," he added.
Switching to English, Ashkenazi said, "In the name of the entire Jewish nation, I'm committed to do our utmost in order to prevent Jewish blood from being spilled once again."
Ashkenazi, the son of a Bulgarian Holocaust survivor father, had earlier
visited the Wannsee Villa, where in 1942, Nazi leaders conspired to annihilate Europe's Jews.
He paid tribute to the close cooperation between the IDF and the German military.
"The very fact that the German chief of the General Staff and the Israeli
chief of Staff are standing here together, shoulder to shoulder, 64 years after the Second World War, and the warm cooperation our militaries share, demonstrates our steadfast determination that never again will such atrocities occur," he said.
When asked if Ashkenazi's message of "never again" at the Shoah memorial sites Wannsee and Track 17 was directed at Iran, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu told The Jerusalem Post that it was meant for "all of our enemies and terror organizations who want" to destroy Israel.
Benayahu said that the discussions between Ashkenazi and Schneiderhan encompass the "situation in the Middle East and Iraq," and the bilateral cooperation among the German and Israeli air forces, armies, navies and intelligence agencies. The "relationship is very strong" between Israel and Germany, said Benayahu.
The Iranian threat will likely form one of the central talking points for Ashkenazi and his German counterpart. Germany is also scheduled to deliver two Dolphin-class submarines to the Israel Navy.
Benayahu declined to comment on recent German media reports that Israel is seeking to acquire two modern German warships, which would be financed by the German government. Steffen Moritz, a spokesman for the German Economic Ministry, said at a government press conference on Monday that "the Economic Ministry would be responsible if there was a corresponding order" from the Israeli side. He added, however, that the ministry is neither aware of a request from the manufacturer of such ships nor from the Israeli government.
A report in the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung daily on Friday said the vessels' cost was estimated at between $600 million and $750m., and a possible builder of the ships was the Hamburg-based Blohm + Voss shipyard.
A German Defense Ministry spokesman told the Post that Schneiderhan had invited Ashkenazi to visit, and the subject of their talks were "military-political questions," as well as "training and support" in both countries. The spokesman termed the bilateral relationship between Israel and German as one of between "friendly nations."
He declined to comment on whether the Iranian nuclear weapons threat
would be discussed. On Tuesday, Ashkenazi will travel with Schneiderhan
to his home in the southwestern state of Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg.
Ashkenazi has met with no fewer than four foreign military heads in recent weeks, including the US's Adm. Michael Glenn Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and France's chief of the Defense Staff, Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, both of whom he met in France at the beginning of the month. The IDF Spokesman said the meetings were routine.
Last week, the Canadian Armed Forces chief of the Defense Staff, Gen. Walter J. Natynczyk, met with Ashkenazi in Israel.
Ashkenazi on Monday also addressed the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes during last winter's Gaza offensive to stem rocket fire on southern Israel, and said that he did not encounter "any influence of the report" in meetings with his counterpart.
"European militaries are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and are running into similar problems," Ashkenazi said, adding that the IDF could share its experience with the armed forces of Israel's partners.
"Our legitimate struggle against terrorist organizations who disrupt our citizens' routine provided a rationale for anti-Semitic attacks by Holocaust deniers and other hostile elements, who legitimize every act of terror against Israeli civilians," Ashkenazi said.