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Israel, Germany Defuse Dispute Over Arms

Relations between Israel and Germany have remained intact after a visit by Israel's head of state, Moshe Katsav, despite recent tensions over the supply of military hardware.


Israel and Germany - their past and future inextricably linked

As the Israeli president wrapped up a three-day visit with final official appearances on Tuesday, there was little sign of the tension that has characterized the relationship with his hosts in recent weeks.

Moshe Katsav was full of praise for Germany, a close ally of his country for decades. He thanked the German government for its support for Israel and for its efforts to combat antisemitism and extremism.

Still, Katsav described as "terrible" a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and particularly in Germany, where the Holocaust had destroyed so many Jewish people. Although they were only a small minority, he said, "one never knows how many people will allow themselves to be influenced."

More military hardware on the cards

The issue of the supply of German military hardware to Israel dominated talks on Monday between Katsav and the German Chancellor. After the meeting, Schröder announced that his government had not ruled out expanded military support for Israel.

Deutscher Spürpanzer Fuchs

Handout-Foto zeigt den deutschen Spuerpanzer "Fuchs". Der Einsatz deutscher Spuerpanzer im irakischen Grenzgebiet ist nicht ausgeschlossen, sagte der stellvertretende Vorsitzende des Auswaertigen Ausschusses im Bundestag, Hans-Ullrich Klose, der 'Bild'-Zeitung vom Samstag, 23.Nov. 2002. (AP Photo/HO)

Schröder reiterated Germany's willingness to supply Israel with US-built Patriot missiles, and said "other assistance" had also been discussed, but he was tight-lipped about the details of any further military aid.

Katsav himself has remained reticent about Israel's wish-list, although he has said he still expects the Fuchs armored troop carriers requested by Israel to be delivered. Over the weekend, Katsav did not rule out the possibility that the tanks would be used against "Palestinian terrorists".

The decision whether Germany will go ahead with the supply of the tanks still hangs in the balance. Katsav's failure to deny that they could be used in operations in Palestinian areas has worried opponents of the move, especially the government's junior coalition partner, the Greens.

The defence minister Peter Struck has repeatedly said Germany can't spare the Fuchs tanks. That assertion will have little bearing on the final ruling by the Federal Committee on Security. It's being seen as an attempt to avoid embarrassment should the decision go against Israel.

A symbolic visit

Though brief, Katsav's visit was heavy with symbolism. On Sunday he became the first Israeli president to consecrate a German synagogue in a ceremony in Wuppertal described by the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, as "moving".

Johannes Rau Mosche Katzav und Leonid Goldberg

German President Johannes Rau, center, Israel's President Moshe Katsav, right, and chairman of the Jewish community Leonid Goldberg, left, hold a Jewish tora scroll during the opening of a new synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2002. (AP Photo/str)

Katsav's official duties also included a visit to a former concentration camp at Sachsenhausen outside Berlin, and a speech before Berlin's Jewish community, in which he stressed Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism.

Demonstrations "a disgrace"

German neo-Nazis marching through Berlin on Monday failed to cast a shadow over the Israeli President's visit. About 100 supporters of the far-right NPD demonstrated, holding up banners saying "Hands off Palestine – No German weapons for Israel".

Several hundred anti-Nazi demonstrators were also gathered along the protest route, kept apart from the right-wingers by a police cordon. Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer described the demonstrations as "a disgrace".

After Germany, the Israeli president heads to Italy for meetings with the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Pope John Paul II, with whom he will discuss the Israeli army presence in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

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