German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s short visit to Israel this week was overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, but it was significant. Planned before the Russian invasion on February 24 it was the chancellor’s first official trip to Israel since replacing Angela Merkel in December and one of his first trips abroad.
Most notably, it came amid significant progress in negotiations between Iran and the superpowers in Vienna ahead of the signing of a new nuclear deal, and about a month after the Defense Ministry signed an agreement with ThyssenKrupp to produce three advanced navy submarines, partially funded by the German government. Merkel paid a farewell visit to Jerusalem in October at the invitation of Prime Naftali Minister Bennett, and the two leaders laid the groundwork for the new submarine deal after her term ended.
Scholtz met Bennett on March 2, after which the prime minister announced a new strategic deal between the two countries.
“Today, I am also pleased to announce that the Chancellor and I have agreed on the creation of new strategic cooperation between the State of Israel and Germany,” Bennett said. “This will be in the format of a biannual dialogue on security and diplomatic matters. I think that this is a significant upgrade in our relations.”
Scholtz concurred, reaffirming Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security, which he said had been made clear to him once again by a visit to Yad Vashem with Bennett at the start of the day.
“Despite the current situation in the world, I’ve decided to pay this visit now, and it was the right thing to do,” he said. “You can rely on it. Germany will continue to be steadfast at Israel’s side.”
“This is not a given,” Bennett noted, as he thanked his German guest. “We started the day at Yad Vashem, the place that reminds us of the wound that is the basis of relations between Israel and Germany. These relations have come a long way since David Ben-Gurion and [Konrad] Adenauer and they are more steadfast than ever. Together we will deepen and expand them.”
While both leaders agreed to work toward ending the Ukraine war and furthering peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, it was Iran that was – for good reason – the focus of Bennett’s concern.
“Mr. Chancellor, we are also charged with the responsibility of making sure that Iran will have neither nuclear weapons nor the possibility of attaining them, not on our watch, not ever,” Bennett said. “We are closely monitoring the talks in Vienna including the possibility that an agreement will be signed that allows Iran to install centrifuges on a broad scale within a few years. This possibility is unacceptable to us.
There is a consensus in Israel that the new Iran deal represents a threat to the Jewish state, the region and the entire world, and that attempts to placate Tehran are unacceptable and bound to fail, as they have in the past. They ignore Iran’s goals to destabilize the Middle East and extend its influence over other states, such as Syria and Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip.
While Israel’s new strategic deal with Germany is a welcome development, Germany’s support for the Iran deal is not because it imperils the Jewish state.
For the record, Scholz said a new Iran deal could not be postponed “any longer.”
“Now is the time to make a decision,” Scholz declared. “Now is the time to finally say yes to something that represents a good and reasonable solution.”
If there’s one thing that the weak international response to the Russian war against Ukraine has taught us it is that Israel ultimately can only rely on itself and its military might, and protect itself and its own interests.
When it comes to Iran, the international community has failed to halt the Islamic Republic’s aspirations to sponsor global terrorism, assert regional hegemony, build nuclear weapons and target the Jewish state.
Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Scholz’s coalition government has reversed Germany’s ban on sending weapons into conflict zones. Arming Ukraine at this time is justifiable, as is the sale of submarines to Israel. But contributing to the existential danger to Israel posed by Iran is quite another.