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A German naval officer watches a helicopter land
Israeli jets turned around after confirming a helicopter was part of the German navyImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Israel Apologizes

DW staff (sms)
October 30, 2006

German Chancellor Merkel spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to clear up "misunderstandings" regarding three incidents between the Israeli air force and German ships patrolling the Lebanese coast.

https://p.dw.com/p/9JH5

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized for "misunderstandings" following three confrontations last week between German forces backing up a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and Israeli jets.

During the conversation Sunday night, Olmert "expressed his regrets about the incidents between the Israeli army and the German UNIFIL force" and told Merkel that such incidents would not occur again in the future," according to a statement released by the Israeli premier's office.

Olmert also stressed the importance of the German forces' participation in UNIFIL and vowed to keep up "direct contact between Israeli and German forces to avoid a repeat of such incidents."

Germany plays a key role in UNFIL

Two German ships
Germany is leading the naval force patrolling the Lebanese coastImage: AP

"For Israel the deployment of a German force which is to play a key role in the implementation of UN resolutions on Lebanon is of utmost importance," the text added.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, who is scheduled to travel to the Middle East on Friday, said the incidents were not "confrontations with Israeli soldiers," in Monday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Jung also told the paper that after speaking with his Israeli counterpart Amir Peretz he saw the "case as closed."

Incidents subject to number of discussions

The German defense ministry last week said that in two separate incidents, Israeli warplanes fired shots over a helicopter and an unarmed German vessel backing up the UN mission off the Lebanese coast. The third incident involved an Israeli F-16 bomber that flew over a German ship Friday.

The episodes were also the subject of a meeting between Olmert and Volker Kauder, the head of the Christian Democratic Union parliamentary group, on Sunday.

An Israeli F-16
Germans said Israeli F-16 flew too low near their shipsImage: AP

"The prime minister explained to a German parliamentary delegation the nature of what happened and apologized for the misunderstandings which arose last week," according to a statement released by the premier's office.

Members of the opposition parties, however, were not content with Olmert's assurances and called for a re-evaluation of the German navy's mandate under the UNFIL force.

Contrary to what parliamentarians were told before approving the navy's deployment, Jung confirmed newspaper reports last week that the German navy could only operate within six miles of the Lebanese coast when it was following a suspicions ship or in coordination with the Lebanese government.

Opposition calls for mandate evaluation

Head of the opposition free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) Guido Westerwelle said his party would not stand for any "gray zones in the Bundeswehr deployments" and called for parliamentary evaluation of the navy's deployment.

Last week's incidents showed that a military confrontation with Israel could break out at any moment, FDP General Secretary Dirk Niebel told NDR radio.

"Under these circumstances, the most sensible thing to do would be to end the deployment," he said.

The Green party's Alexander Bonde said he felt "left in the dark and lied to" by the German defense ministry in Monday's Stuttgarter Nachrichten daily.

In its first mission to the Middle East since World War II, the German naval force is charged with preventing weapons smuggling and helping maintain a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

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