A series of blunders have put Jung's job at risk as he prepares to visit the Middle EastImage: AP
Jung Visits Middle East
DW staff/ dpa (nda)
November 1, 2006
German Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung visits Beirut and Tel Aviv this week as pressure grows on the minister to resign after a string of high profile blunders concerning German military deployments overseas.
Jung arrives in Beirut on Thursday before moving onto Israel on Friday at a time when the presence of the German navy's presence off the coast of Lebanon appears to be causing more problems than it is solving.
The German navy arrived to begin its mission of patrolling the coast as part of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in October. Since taking over the responsibility from the Italian navy of stopping illegal arms reaching the Shiite Hezbollah militia, the Bundesmarine vessels and helicopters have been harassed on at least two occasions by Israeli warplanes.
The incidents, played down by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and denied by the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, raised questions about the wisdom of the deployment which was approved by the Bundestag after a long period of soul-searching, prompted by Germany's history with Israel.
On the occasions when IDF warplanes allegedly shot over the bows of a German surveillance ship in international waters and when Bundesmarine helicopters were buzzed by jets, Jung was reported to have telephoned with his Israeli counterpart Amir Peretz to clarify the incidents and protest.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has since apologized to Germany for the "misunderstandings" and highlighted the importance of the German forces' participation in the international force deployed in Lebanon.
In recent days, Germany and Israel have agreed to review the level of military communication between the two nations in a bid to avoid further incidents or escalation.
Jung to discuss co-operation with Israeli counterpart
Jung's visit to Tel Aviv on Friday is expected to include discussions with Peretz on ways to improve cooperation in regard to policing Lebanon which continues to live under a fragile ceasefire after the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah ended in August.
Before flying on to the Israeli capital, Jung will pay a visit to German troops deployed off the coast of Lebanon and will then meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Defense Minister Elias Murr.
The visit comes at a time when Jung himself is under growing pressure to resign after a series of gaffes and blunders which have infuriated not merely the opposition but also reportedly
Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Media reports say Jung -- a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) -- has drawn the wrath of his boss for supplying a faulty report on Germany's naval contribution to United Nations forces in Lebanon.
Defense minister's blunders anger chancellor
Merkel, quoting the defense ministry paper, publicly declared that German ships would be able to patrol inside of Lebanese territorial waters within six miles from the coast. "We can cruise in the entire area," said the chancellor. But in reality, Lebanon's government had demanded German ships stay outside the six-mile zone.
Merkel was reportedly livid after being corrected by German diplomats and military officials. There are now accusations that she misled Germany's parliament to win approval for the mission.
This debacle was followed by a series of other stumbles by Jung.
Without informing the chancellor, Jung announced at the weekend that Germany planned to pull out some of its 850 troops serving with European Union peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Making matters even worse, he said this was necessary because German armed forces were badly overstretched -- an implicit criticism of his own government recently voiced by the opposition Greens. Germany currently has about 10,000 troops on foreign missions in the Balkans, Lebanon and Afghanistan -- out of a total of 253,000 active soldiers.
The cabinet's weakest link?
Critics pounced on Jung's explanation and said cutting the 6,000-member EU force in Bosnia-Herzegovina could only be justified by the considerable political progress in the former Yugoslav territory which was torn by a bloody civil war from 1992 to 1995.
Jung's response to the publication of ugly photos showing German troops in Afghanistan posing with human skulls has also been criticized.
The defense minister seemed to brush aside any responsibility by stressing he had not been in office when the pictures were taken.
Defense Minister Jung has always been viewed as one of the weakest members in the German cabinet. His selection one year ago surprised observers given that he had almost no experience in military affairs other than having done military service back in the 1960s.
Jung appears to have been given the post largely because the powerful CDU premier of Hesse state, Roland Koch, insisted he was the right man for the job.
Middle East visit to be Jung's last?
According to some, however, that may not be enough to save him. Opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) leaders predict Jung will either resign or be forced from office.
"I believe Jung will be gone by Christmas," said FDP defense expert Rainer Stinner while Dirk Nibel, the FDP secretary general, appealed to Jung to take responsibility for his failings and quit.