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International Relations

'Germany will be on Israel's side' against Iran

Leaders in Germany caution Israel not to make good on threats to strike at the Iranian military. But could Berlin really keep itself out of an Israeli-Iranian conflict?

Israel only has a few really good friends and "Germany is one of them," according to Israeli journalist Gad Lior. But with friendship comes responsibility - a fact that is very clear to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

When Merkel spoke to the Israeli cabinet some four years ago, she confirmed Germany's historic responsibility to the state of Israel, saying its right to exist was integral to German foreign policy.

That's one reason why Israelis say they can count on Germany.

"If it comes to a war with Iran, then we are very sure that Germany will be on Israel's side," said Lior, the Jerusalem bureau chief of Israel's largest daily paper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

Germany's limited political influence

For the moment, however, politicians in Berlin are sticking to the line of warning their Israeli counterparts not to conduct a military attack against Iran.

Avi Primor

Primor said Israeli threats are aimed at getting allies to act

"The orders of the day are strict sanctions and hard negotiations," German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, adding that military escalation would bring "incalculable risks."

But German warnings have received little credence in Israel, where - after the United States - Germany is regarded as the country's closest friend, said former Israeli ambassador to Germany Avi Primor.

"Germany isn't given too much weight when it comes to the affairs of the Middle East," he said, adding that Israel's Middle East policy is not influenced by Germany or the rest of Europe. "America is what really counts for the Israeli government."

Israeli expectations

Still, Israel does expect Germany's support, "especially in the form of pressure on Iran and stricter sanctions that could really bring Iran to its knees," Primor said.

Should international violence erupt between Israel and Iran, Lior said there is no way Germany could remain neutral.

An Israeli Navy boat escorts a Dolphin class German-made submarine off the coast of the Mediterranean port of Haifa

Germany provides some military assistance and hardware to Israel

Germany could help Israel protect civilians from Iranian rocket attacks. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, Germany stationed Patriot missiles in Israel as part of an air defense system in case Saddam Hussein fired rockets at the Jewish state.

Germany has also already sold weapons, including submarines, to the Israeli armed forces. In Mid-March it was announced that the Israelis would receive a sixth vessel and that Germany would pay for about a third of it. Experts said the boat, which is though to be capable of carrying medium-range nuclear weapons, could be part of a strategy of deterrence against an Iranian missile threat. Israel has never confirmed that it has nuclear weapons, though many arms experts believe the country does.

From saber-rattling to a threat of war

With the United States in the middle of a presidential election campaign, Primor said he does not expect US President Barack Obama to give Israel a green light to launch an attack against Iran, as the president cannot afford the costs of another war. And Israel would not launch military operations without any US blessing, he added.

Iran's Shahab-3 rockets could reach Israel

Primor said Israeli saber-rattling is intended to make the European Union and United States take a harder line when it comes to sanctions against Iran.

Lior also said he does not believe there is an immediate danger of war breaking out, adding that comments from Israeli politicians are threats.

"They want to scare the Iranians," he said. "A war would hurt both sides."

Primor said there is still time to support and rely on opposition forces within Iran to remove President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from power.

"The problem is not the nuclear weapons," Primor said. "It's the hands they are in. In the hands of a democratic or at least an open government, these weapons would no longer be dangerous."

Author: Nils Naumann / sms
Editor: Neil King

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