Analysis: When Barak went to Berlin

What did the defense minister get out of his trip? Will Germany support a strike on Iran?

Barak and de Maiziere 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Barak and de Maiziere 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BERLIN ­ - German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere's statements earlier this week during his meeting with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak mean, on the surface, opposition to a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Nonetheless, Barak may have secured more military cooperation from Germany than was voiced in de Maiziere's anti-strike comments.
The signing ceremony with Barak for the contract to purchase a sixth Super Dolphin submarine for Israel's navy took place at the country's embassy and represents the crowning achievement of German-Israeli military cooperation. The advanced Dolphin possesses a second-strike nuclear weapons capability.
Philipp Missfelder, the Christian Union Democratic deputy and foreign spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's party in the Bundestag, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, "We stand strongly on the side of Israel. The military cooperation shows that Israel has a special status."
"We cannot merely make nice speeches if we do not cooperate with Israel militarily. If Israel is in danger, Germany should stand by its side. It is right to advocate that the military option remain. I support defensive military supplies to Israel," he continued.
In sharp contrast to de Maiziere's remarks, a Tuesday article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also known as FAZ, lends additional evidence that Barak has convinced the Germans to fulfill aspects of their pledge to champion Israel's security. The FAZ piece noted that the Merkel administration will "immediately" support Israel and provide rocket-defense systems and specialized personnel if requested by Israel in order to bolster its defenses during a conflict with Iran.
Former Israeli ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein, who served from 2001 to 2007, told the Post on the telephone that the "FAZ article is good news. Netanyahu's office will be pleased to read it."
Stein, who is widely considered to be one of the top Israeli ambassadors in Germany, added that he considers it a mistake that Germany has not publicly retained the military option against Iran. In connection with the military possibility, "Israel and the US differ not on substance but on timing.
Germany finds itself in opposition to the US, not just Israel," he said.
While de Maiziere said at a joint meeting on Tuesday in Berlin that "a military escalation would bring i ncalculable risks for Israel and the region, to the detriment of Israel," the meetings among German ministries spoke a somewhat different language.
The FAZ noted that the German defense ministry, foreign ministry and chancellor's office met to determine the meaning of Chancellor Merkel's statement about Israel's security interests being integral to German interests. According to the newspaper, the German government will "immediately" show support for Israel's defense measures.
Concretely, the Merkel administration will supply Israel with Patriot rocket systems, mobile defense devices and technical personnel. The article also said that Germany's government would not expect additional military requests from Israel.
The article, titled "Möllemann's inheritors: The FDP, the chancellor, and the conflict with Iran" and penned by Majid Sattar, outlined splits in the governing coalition in Germany among the Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union party and the FDP (Free Democratic Party).
According to the piece, a unnamed FDP deputy said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's statements about military strikes against the Islamic Republic are "irresponsible." Though the FDP has a responsibility toward the Jewish state, wrote Sattar, the party has to play the role of the mediator with the Muslim world.
Though the statements from Westerwelle and de Maiziere could be interpreted as undermining the US, British, Dutch and Israeli positions, namely that the military option has to remain on the table, there are signs that Chancellor Angela Merkel might stick to her pro-Israel position.
She told the Knesset in 2008 that "we would never abandon Israel" and "consequently, in the hour of truth, these cannot remain empty words." She was the only European leader to unconditionally support Operation Cast Lead in 2008, though, in contrast to US President Barack Obama, she has not publicly issued a statement about the military option vis-a-vis Iran.
Merkel plays her military cards close to the vest. It is hard to assess if, when the moment of truth arrives, she will fulfill her promise to support and defend Israel.