Oct 10, 2023

Germany’s Support of Israel Needs to Lead to Strategic Action

Israelische Flagge vor dem Brandenburger Tor bei Kundgebung am 08.10.2023
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The brutal terrorist attack of Hamas on Israel has shocked Germany. Attacks against civilians are never justified. All political parties, except for those on the extreme Right and Left, have issued strong statements of support to Israel. They reiterated that Israel’s existence is part of Germany’s Staatsraison. Among the initial concrete actions of Germany and the EU were decisions to review all assistance given to Gaza and Palestinian organizations.

This first response is welcome. It is now time to determine strategic next steps for moving forward – steps that need to be grounded in a rigorous analysis of the situation. I would argue that three issues are central.

First, significant evidence has emerged that the actions of Hamas are not being done in isolation. The leadership of Hamas has been in close contact with the leadership of Russia and is also supported by Iran. Thus, the recent events in Israel are more than a local terrorist action. Germany needs to understand that Western security is challenged by multiple state actors such as Russia and Iran that cooperate with terrorist organizations like Hamas to advance their interests. From a Russian perspective, any such conflict is a strategic gain as it diverts attention and dilutes the resources of the West. Iran not only supports terrorists attacking Israel, but it also delivers weapons to Russia. Such coordinated actions of states and non-state actors require a broader and more determined response. Consequently, Germany needs to position itself more clearly against the Iranian regime in the strategic arena. On October 18, United Nations sanctions against Iran to limit exports of ballistic missiles will be lifted due to a sunset clause. While EU countries have taken some measures to contain the fallout, stricter sanctions now appear warranted. Certainly, Germany and the EU need to finally become realistic regarding the prospects of “diplomatic solutions” and toughen their approach to Iran.

Second, the United States is already providing material military support to Israel, but its military capacities are limited. The US military industrial complex has not been able to sufficiently increase its production of ammunition and weapons to keep up with needs in Ukraine. Stocks have been depleting and the US has even sent some ammunition from stocks in Israel to Ukraine. Similarly, European ammunition production has not been growing rapidly enough to keep up with the increasing deliveries to Ukraine. In a scenario where the war against Israel widens, providing sufficient support to Ukraine could become an even more pressing issue. This is not only a logistical point, but also a political one. The political fallout in the United States around the ousting of House speaker Kevin McCarthy, for example, has demonstrated that US support for Ukraine is not a bipartisan priority. Support for Israel, on the other hand, is shared across both the Republican and Democratic Parties. The strategic consequence is clear: Germany and the EU must take decisive action to ramp up domestic production of weapons and ammunition to take greater responsibility in this new strategic situation. We need to be prepared for a scenario in which the bulk of military and financial support for Ukraine will have to come from Europe. Providing long-term government guarantees for increased demand to the weapons industry is an important step toward ensuring greater supplies.

Third, Germany would be well advised to bring together its European partners in a coordinated joint response. Germany should provide the leadership necessary for Europe to shoulder a greater burden in defending the continent, thereby freeing US capacity for Israel and the Indo-Pacific. Even difficult partners such as Hungary understand that a Russian victory in Ukraine would imperil their security situation. France and Italy, while supportive of Ukraine, need to be enlisted to provide more backing in the short term to shift the strategic balance. Bringing European partners together will not be an easy task, but Ukraine urgently needs action as its position becomes more difficult. For Germany to convince its partners to join necessary short-term efforts, however, it needs to signal its long-term plans for European defense to them more clearly.

Germany rightly stands with Israel in the face of this terrorist attack. It now needs to act on the strategic implications drawn from it by giving urgent attention to these three major issues at the highest political level.

Bibliographic data

Wolff, Guntram. “Germany’s Support of Israel Needs to Lead to Strategic Action.” German Council on Foreign Relations. October 2023.