From Lebanon to Libya and beyond: back to the future? 154 

In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 166-194)

Overall, as we have witnessed since the end of the Cold War, the German strategic stance towards the whole Middle East has been alternating between a more distant and a more active role while strategic continuity, in turn, can be detected in terms of Germany’s political and moral conviction to guaran- tee Israel’s security and territorial integrity. As Behr has noted, after the first Gulf War, strategic continuity seemed to persist as Germany continued to support US hegemony in the region and for Israel while exercising a policy of self-restraint in terms of the other parts of the Middle-East.418 Hence, while

keeping close to Israel and its interests, Germany distanced itself from other parts of the region, only occasionally interceding on behalf of its historical partners, Turkey and Iran. This ‘distancing’ was also highlighted in the Fran- co-German agreement at the EU level that while Germany takes the lead in Eastern Europe, France concentrates on the Mediterranean.419

However, as Jünemann has argued in detail, Germany became incremen- tally more vested into the Mediterranean area through the introduction of institutionalized political co-operation such as the Euro-Mediterranean Part- nership (EMP) and its successor, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Crucial in this regard was the growing awareness among German policymak- ers over the new security challenges posed by the instability of the Middle East after the removal of internal borders at Schengen and the stepwise con- solidation of EU foreign policies at Amsterdam, which, in effect, made Ger- many a ‘Mediterranean country’.420 Behr points out that a notable rise in the

German interest toward the Middle East became apparent after the Middle East Peace Process had failed and when it seemed clear that the US had em- barked on a war against Iraq.421 Indeed, increasing US intransigence created

windows of opportunity for the Schröder government to increase Germany’s foreign policy profile in the Middle East. This was reflected in the so-called Idea Paper for the Middle East (Nahost Ideenpapier), drafted by the then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, which included concrete steps towards a

418 Behr, Timo 2008, ‘Enduring Differences? France, Germany and Europe’s Middle East Dilemma’,

Journal of European Integration, Vol. 30, No.1, p. 90 (79-97).

419 See e.g. Yirit, Nugettin 2015, Arab Spring in Berlin and Paris. German and French Policy Between

Continuity and Change, Anchor Academic Publishing Hamburg, 2015.

420 Jünemann, Annette, 2005 ‘German policies in the Mediterranean’, Fernández, Haizam Amirah

& Youngs, Richard (eds.) 2005, The Euro–Mediterranean Partnership: assessing the first decade, Madrid, Fride, p.113 111–120

lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Elsewhere, Chancel- lor Schröder hinted on the possibility of German military participation in a conflict management mission sanctioned by the UN if that was in the wishes of the conflict parties themselves.422

Even though Germany has been a vocal supporter of Israel at practically every turn and while it has officially defended Israel against critical voices concerning the more robust Israeli policies rising within the EU (this was the case e.g. in the July 2006 war between Israel and the Hezbollah), Germany has also been an outspoken supporter of a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and supported the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza districts with sizeable financial contributions.423 The majority

of the German public does not, however, support a more visible role for Ger- many as an advocate for either the Israelis or the Palestinians. For instance, according to a survey conducted during the time of the crisis in Gaza in 2014, 69% argued in favour of Germany remaining on the sidelines.424 On the

whole, Germany’s policies in the post-Iraq Middle East have attempted to harvest the benefits of being perceived as some sort of a counterweight to US supremacy and an interlocutor between divergent interests at times of rising unrest and turmoil (which was particularly pertinent at the time of the Iraq war and the subsequent period of crisis in transatlantic relations). At other times, Germany has sought a co-operative and multilateral approach to the US, both from within the EU and the CFSP framework and in its bilateral relations to other international actors in the region. Still, regardless of its resolute official support for Israel’s security and territorial integrity, Germa- ny has remained far more sensitive to Palestinian issues than many other actors that are among the Israel’s closest allies in the region, particularly the US. Differences between Germany and the US were also detectable in the wake of the Syrian civil war at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg in Septem- ber 2013, when Germany refused to sign a US sponsored declaration which called for a strong, i.e. military response against Syrian President Bashar al- Assad and his cohorts. However, as Schumacher has pointed out, “24 hours later at an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Vilnius, Germany per- formed a U-turn and acknowledged that some consequences will have to be

422‚Fischer legt Ideenpapier für Nahost-Lösung vor‘, Handelsblatt, 9.4.2002. Available at:

( ideenpapier-fuer-nahost-loesung-vor/2155622.html).

423 In 2014 for instance, Germany supported the Palestinians in terms of state-building, infrastructure

and humanitarian assistance with around 225 Million Euro. For more information, see the website of German Foreign Ministry. Available at: ( Schwerpunkten/IsraelPalestinensischeGebiete/ZukunftPalaestina/Uebersicht_node.html).

424 ‚Umfrage: Deutsche gegen Engagement im Gaza-Konflikt‘, Spiegel Online, 7.8.2014. Available

at: ( einsatz-a-985066.html).

drawn”.425 Germany’s stance towards Syria (especially before the outbreak of

the war) was much more accommodating in terms of a resolution to the Is- raeli-Palestinian conflict than that of the US and Foreign Minister Steinmeier pushed hard for Syrian engagement in the issue. During the Syrian conflict, Steinmeier has been very active in his diplomatic efforts in the region. Ger- many’s role has also been considered pivotal in the mediation of the Nuclear Agreement with Iran in 2015.426


“Germany’s foreign and security policy has never been neutral.”427

(Angela Merkel)

In terms of German strategic culture, the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 (the so-called second Lebanon-War) sparked a con- siderable debate in terms of the use of military force, because it was the first time since the end of World War II that Germany’s military assistance had been requested by both the Israelis (and the Lebanese) to participate in the UN peacekeeping operation (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL) as part of a Maritime Taskforce in the Mediterranean and the Leba- nese coast. The conflict broke out in July 2006 as a result of the Hezbollah paramilitaries firing rockets across the border, killing a number of Israeli soldiers and kidnapping a further two. Israel Defence Forces (IDF) respond- ed with air and heavy artillery strikes against Hezbollah military targets but also the civilian infrastructure. In addition, Israel imposed an air and naval embargo on Lebanon. Hezbollah continued to engage the Israeli forces through guerrilla -warfare and rocket strikes.

On 11 August 2006, the UNSC unanimously approved UNSC Resolution 1701 in an effort to end the hostilities. The resolution was approved by both the Lebanese and Israeli governments in the following days. It called for dis- armament of Hezbollah, for withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon, and for the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces and an enlarged UNIFIL.428 UNI-

425 Schumacher, Tobias 2015, ‘Uncertainty at the EU's borders: narratives of EU external relations in

the revised European Neighbourhood Policy towards the southern borderlands’, European Security, Vol. 24, No. 3, p. 392. pp. 381-401.

426 ‚Atomabkommen mit Iran: Wie wichtig Deutschland für die Verhandlungen war‘, Süddeutsche=HL

tung, 14.7.2015. Available at: ( wichtig-deutschland-fuer-die-verhandlungen-war-1.2565136); ÃWesten begrüßt Atom Abkommen PLW dem Iran‘, Focus Online, 17.1.2016. Available at: ( aufgehoben-atom-abkommen-mit-iran-begruesst_id_5216644.html).

427 Deutscher Bundestag, Plenarprotokoll 16/50, p. 4832.

428 UNSC Resolution 1701, S/RES/1701 (2006). Available at: (

FIL was provided with an extensive mandate in terms of the use of force, in- cluding the ability to provide forceful protection from hostile activities their area of operations. Moreover, the use of force was allowed in terms of resist- ing attempts by force to prevent UNIFIL from conducting its mission.

In September 2006, upon requests from both conflicting parties, Lebanon and Israel, the Bundestag authorized a naval deployment of up to 2,400 troops as part of UNIFIL. The mission objective of the German contingent was to monitor the Lebanese coast to prevent weapons smuggling to Hezbol- lah forces in Lebanon. The preceding debate around the German deploy- ment, discussed below, would span a period of couple months not only be- cause a German military deployment to the Mediterranean would mark a historical first, but also due to the fact that it included the possibility of armed German soldiers finding themselves staring at Israeli soldiers across the border.

The Bundestag debates on the UNIFIL deployment were held on 19 Sep- tember and 20 September 2006 and subsequently a vote on the participation followed. German military participation was accepted with more than a four- fifths majority of Bundestag votes. Social Democrats highlighted the histori- cal dimension of the issue. For instance, Foreign Minister Steinmeier recog- nized the historical weight of the German decision by noting that “ten years ago nobody would have probably come to the idea of discussing sending German soldiers alongside other European soldiers to the Middle East”, he also stressed that “[...] since then, the conditions around the world had changed fundamentally, and we [the Germans] have changed with them.” Furthermore, for Steinmeier, German deployment in the Middle East was a sign of a maturing and the coming together of Europe, since he was certain that Europe would become a factor in moves towards peace in the Middle East. Moreover, while Steinmeier clearly recognized the pace of change and the novelty of the mission for Germany and the Bundeswehr, he tied it closely with ‘good’ German foreign policy tradition underlying continuity: “There is no doubt whatsoever: with this mission […] we are stepping onto politically new territory. But I say: this mission, as any, is part of the good tradition of German foreign policy. Always when the Bundestag has approved of such a mission, we have done it in order to create peace, to secure peace treaties or to prevent people from having to flee their homes or of their persecution.” Moreover, according to Steinmeier, the question of German deployment in UNIFIL was not a question of “the unprincipled breach with the taboos in foreign policy, which we ourselves have laid upon us after the era of National Socialists” but rather about “credibility and the recognition of normality, which does not protect us from demands anymore”.429

Similarly, the CDU/CSU linked the deployment to the broader issue of German responsibility. Chancellor Merkel argued that “(t)his Bundeswehr mission in the Middle East is not like every other mission, it is a mission of

historical dimension. Why is this word not highlighted, although it is factual- ly not the first out-of-area mission of the Bundeswehr beyond Germany and Europe? We all know that German responsibility in the world has changed with the course of the change of 1989/1990 and German reunification. This has consequences, which are also of military nature.”430 However, partly con-

trasting the historical dimension of the issue, the CDU/CSU also argued that Germany needed to participate in UNIFIL mainly because its interests in the region predicated that it should do so. For instance, a reference was made to a recent apprehension of suitcase bombers in Germany, the purpose of which was to highlight that Germany was threatened by the volatile situation in the Middle East and had vital security interests in maintaining a peace in the re- gion.431

The PDS argued against this logic. Gregor Gysi maintained that “you can- not establish normality by soldiers and artillery” and that the German de- ployment was controversial in terms of what was expected of the German soldiers: “It is known that both conflict parties have particular but very dif- ferent expectations towards the German soldiers. The one hopes for respon- sibility because of our history and the other hopes that something of our his- tory still remains. A German government, which knows this, should have al- ready beforehand said no to a mission involving our soldiers.”432

The FDP, while representing the opposition, seemed principally to be in favour of German military deployment. Hoyer, for instance, argued that “(t)here are colleagues, who – after a thorough deliberation – are of the opin- ion that the presence of the German military in the Middle East is a taboo. I highly respect this opinion, although I don’t share it. Others think that our history explicitly does not legitimize or give us an excuse to stay out of there, militarily too if need be. Finally there are those who say that it is just as un- wise to participate militarily, although we are without any doubt ready to bear a great responsibility. I support this last line of argument.” Hoyer con- tinued by legitimizing his party’s opposition to German military deployment by arguing that if the military mission failed, it would inevitably lead to an endangering of the political process.433

However, it seemed that even the particular aspect regarding the relative- ly extensive rules of engagement included in the original formulation in the UN mandate that was based on UNSC 1701 (which were eventually watered down by the Lebanese requests and the Bundestag mandate) did not prove to be too hard to accept for the majority of the Bundestag (with the exception of PDS). Chancellor Merkel reflected on this as she argued that “it is not an out- of-area operation of the Bundeswehr as such nor is it the concrete formula- tion of the mandate, which would make this mission to stand out from the

430 Deutscher Bundestag, Plenarprotokoll 16/50, p. 4831 431 Deutscher Bundestag, Plenarprotokoll 16/49, pp. 4813-14. 432 Ibid., pp. 4804-6.

rest. It is the region, which makes this operation into a special mission, a mission of historical dimension. In hardly any another place on earth can the special responsibility of Germany, the special responsibility of every German government and German Bundestag for the lessons learned from the German past, be conveyed as clearly as here.”434

Another significant topic in these particular debates was the question re- garding values and neutrality. Chancellor Merkel was particularly outspoken in this regard, as she argued that “Germany’s foreign and security policy has never been neutral. It was, it is and it will remain tied to values. Being tied to values is the opposite of neutrality.”435 However, this position had particular-

ly been criticized earlier by FDP’s ‘grand old men’ of German foreign and se- curity policy, i.e. Walter Scheel, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Otto Graf Lambsdorff for whom it was imperative to protect German soldiers from get- ting into conflict situations with Israeli soldiers – according to them, this was also in line with German ‘responsibility’.436 PDS also criticized the Chancel-

lor’s position of linking neutrality and values by arguing that there was a strong contradiction in the willingness to contribute to the weapons embargo on Hezbollah and the simultaneous delivery of weapons to Israel. The Arab world would not take the German position in this question for granted.437

Initially, Merkel had been much more reserved towards the deployment of a German military contingent in the Mediterranean, but the direct request from the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convinced her to reconsid- er. This ultimately led to the decision to send in the naval contingent. How- ever, after the German contingent was deployed in October 2006, there were several reported incidents of Israeli fighter jets harassing German naval ves- sels which led to heightened diplomatic tensions between Germany and Isra- el and loud criticism about government policy from the German opposi- tion.438 Moreover, the Lebanese government had been able to negotiate a

much more restricted mandate for the UNIFIL naval contingent than what was originally planned – German vessels needed the approval of Lebanese authorities to operate within a six-mile radius of the Lebanese coast, which

434 Deutscher Bundestag, Plenarprotokoll 16/50, p. 4832. 435 Ibid.

436 FDP-Granden warnen vor deutschen Soldaten im Libanon‘, Handelsblatt, 18.08.2006. Available at:

( vor-deutschen-soldaten-im-libanon/2694618.html).

437 Deutscher Bundestag, Plenarprotokoll 16/50, p. 4835-7.

438 ‚Libanon: Zwischenfall bei deutschem Marine-Einsatz‘, Spiegel Online, 25.10.2006. Available

at: ( a-444741.html); ‚Falsch unterrichtet oder getäuscht?‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Available at: ( unterrichtet-oder-getaeuscht-1357072.html).

considerably hampered German efforts to track potential arms shipments.439

Indeed, the successes of the UNIFIL mission since the second Lebanon-war in 2006 have been few and far in between. Israel has always treated UNIFIL with a large dose of skepticism and even hostility, and considered the mis- sion ‘ineffective’ and ‘toothless’ at best. However, it has always consented to the extension of the yearly mandate because there had not been a better al- ternative.440

In terms of German strategic culture, the UNIFIL deployment underlined the primacy of a historically conscious security and defence policy the princi- pal aim of which is to bring about peace and peaceful relations, but added to the mix the notion of Germany defending its own interests and security through the deployment of military force – a factor which had not promi- nently surfaced in the similar debates before UNIFIL. The discourse sur- rounding German security interests was also reflected in the aspect of non- neutrality professed by Chancellor Merkel. However, even though strategic continuity was detectable in the German government’s refusal to send ground troops to the Middle East, members of both governing parties (SPD and CDU/CSU) were surprisingly willing to consider it, and, as Belkin has argued, it was largely because the German ground troop presence had origi- nally been requested by Israel. This was imaginable in a context in which the request of the Israelis seemed to indicate placing a high level of trust in Ger- man politics.441

Above all, the case of Lebanon particularly expressed the principled ten- sion between the fact that Germany’s decision on the UNIFIL deployment was described as a decision of ‘historical dimension’ and the fact that this notwithstanding, Germany in any case had security interests in the region that needed to be secured. Hence, it can be argued that the process of strate- gic cultural change since Srebrenica had come to a point where German par- ticipation in military crisis management could in principle be legitimized

In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 166-194)