The Germany correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, Eldad Beck, welcomes Germany's involvement in the Middle East conflict. But, he warns, the price for that could be high.
During the fighting between the Israeli army and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier embarked on a diplomatic initiative which surprised many in the Middle East. In an interview in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Steinmeier talked about the necessity of Syrian involvement in an eventual solution to the latest crisis in Lebanon.
"Syria is too important a region player to be left out of the loop in the long run," said Steinmeier. "While I can understand that seeing things in black and white in foreign policy may be attractive, I've learned that the entire color spectrum is more representative of the state of affairs. We should continue to express out criticism of Syria's internal affairs, but we should also see if Syria really wants to bind itself to Iran for the long term. I will engage with Syria to show them there is a way to be a constructive partner in the peace process, rather than a hindrance to rapprochement."
Western logic vs. Mideast politics
Minister Steinmeier was correct in thinking that Israel's offensive in Lebanon and the weakening of Hezbollah, the Islamic militia supported by Damascus and Tehran, could be the start of a political process that might bring Syria around. However, western logic has little to do with political thinking in the Middle East.
The last war in Lebanon was seen by many in the region not as a superfluous stage of a long, destructive conflict that, at the end of the day, served no purpose. Rather, many considered it an important step toward Israel's eventual destruction. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, expressed a similar opinion in a speech that he gave on August 15 in Damascus in front of a gathering of Syrian journalists.
"The peace process has been a failure and is dead," said al-Assad. "The next generation will find a way to force Israel to capitulate." He praised Hezbollah and declared: "To those who accuse Syria of supporting Hezbollah, we respond by saying that that is a great honor and a medal on the chest of every Arab."
Business sometimes paramount
Many politicians around the globe often become prisoners of their own positions and ideas. The German foreign minister has shown himself to be an exception. He reacted to the "resistance speech" by the Syrian president by immediately canceling his planned trip to Damascus. Steinmeier has not given up his idea of bringing Syria into the international peace process, but he won't do it at any price.
If Germany begins taking on a bigger role in the Middle East in the hopes of contributing to a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the reaction of the foreign minister is very significant. For years, Germany took great efforts not to offend the sensibilities of the parties involved in the conflict. The opinion that Germany has always been on the side of the Israelis is incorrect. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel's very existence was threatened, the government of West Germany, under Willy Brandt, did not allow weapon deliveries from the US to Israel to be transported through Germany on the ground or in the air. For decades, the East German government generously supported Arabic terrorism against Israel.
Germany's position toward Middle Eastern affairs has not always been an objective one, and not always in Israel's favor. Germany has many business interests in the region, and many Arabic and Muslim countries offer more lucrative business opportunities than Israel does. That fact has sometimes influenced German policy in the Middle East more than any historically motivated feeling of responsibility toward Israel.
Rule of terror in Lebanon
As long as Germany didn't strive for a larger role in the region, the parties in the Middle East conflict were able to live with German "neutrality." But Germany's playing a more important role in the region makes it more vulnerable. At some point it's going to be necessary to show one's colors. Mr. Steinmeier is right if he thinks that one has to look at the region's entire complicated spectrum. The situation, especially in Lebanon, is very complex. So complex, in fact, that it is only those ready to die with a clean conscience or murder tens of thousands of innocents -- as in the case of Syria and its proxies -- who have succeeded in establishing a rule of terror in Lebanon.
Hezbollah now refuses to lay down its arms. Iran, for its part, sees a "Zionistic protection force" in the UN troops that are to be stationed in southern Lebanon. At the same time, Iran finds itself at odds with the international community over its nuclear program. What would happen if Tehran decides to put Hezbollah in action against UN troops, as has happened in the past? According to various sources, Iran is cooperating with al Qaeda, which has conducted a global war against the west for years now. With Iran's help, Lebanon could become a new front in that war. The situation in southern Lebanon is such that the dynamic could change at any time and international troops there could become a party in the conflict. Is Germany ready for such an eventuality? Israel is fighting for its very existence in this highly explosive context. Is Germany really ready to bear the consequences of its verbal commitment to Israel's right to exist.
To do something good for world peace is a highly admirable and even intelligent position. But rationality is often something very different from political reality, especially in the East. The Romans used to say: to achieve peace, man should always be ready for war. One cannot rule out the possibility that the defense of certain values in the Middle East will come with a high price. However, one can always hope that, one day, reason will prevail in the region -- the earlier, the better. If the Germans want to go down the path of greater involvement there, despite all the risks that will come with it, one should wish them the very best of luck.
Eldad Beck is Germany correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot (jam)