Key Partner in the Mideast

JVG_TZI_Hans_Ulrich_KloseHans-Ulrich Klose is one of Germany’s most respected policymakers in the sphere of foreign policy and security. Now 77, he was in a position to observe and help shape German-Israeli relations since their official beginnings 50 years ago. As a Social Democratic politician in 1965, what did he think and feel? “Relief. Relief that normal political relations would be possible between the country of the victims and the country of the perpetrators. Politically speaking, these relations were of existential importance to Germany. Germany’s return to the circle of civilized nations was only possible via constructive relations with Israel. The fact that Israel went along with that was a great gift to us.”

Especially for younger Germans at the time, Israel was a land of promise and dreams. “A socialist model – everyone wanted to spend some time in a kibbutz.” Today many on the left have turned away from Israel: “That certainly also has to do with our current attitudes toward the military and war. The time when Israel was idealized is gone. My relationship to Israel is shaped by my own personal experiences, the many encounters I have had and my friendships over the years. There is Israel. And there is Tel Aviv. I love the Republic of Tel Aviv. The atmosphere there is amazing. I’m constantly surprised by the friendliness that young Israelis, especially, display towards us Germans there. … As far as the conflict with the Palestinians goes: I know how wars are waged, know how photos can be spread, manipulated. I know too much to idealize the Palestinians. I can understand that people will be distressed when they’ve lost their homeland. But in this conflict, I also know exactly what side I’m on.”

What is the relationship between Germany and Israel today? “Germany’s relationship to Israel is shaped by admiration and annoyance at once. Admiration for the country’s economic, scientific and technological capabilities. Although I also believe that old, historic jealousy of the successful Jewish population is still a danger. And annoyance on the part of some regarding the country’s political situation.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that responsibility for Israel’s security is central to Germany’s existence as a nation. What does that mean? “Germany will always support the security of Israel. Not ensure it; we aren’t in a position to do that. But supplying submarines to Israel is one of the most important measures of support there is.” Because only submarines offer a second line of defense in case of an attack. “That’s still the consensus in Germany’s parliamentary committee on foreign policy, by the way.”

Regarding Israel’s relations to the US, the renowned transatlantic policymaker has the following remarks: “In recent times, both sides have made serious mistakes. For example, Netanyahu’s show of partisanship toward Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and now his most recent address to the US Congress. That may have been the right decision in terms of electoral strategy back home, but it’s counterproductive over the long term. Traditionally it’s been US Democrats who have been reliably on Israel’s side.”

“But Obama also made foreign policy mistakes. He drew a red line in Syria, but didn’t enforce it. If I were Israeli or Russian, I’d be asking myself: how reliable are US declarations about red lines? For myself, I do believe they’re reliable. I’m sure that Obama himself would admit this was a mistake.”


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“In my view, people in the US still feel a sense of responsibility for Israel. For emotional reasons as well – as I understand it, many Americans see their country as the New Jerusalem and feel a kind of religious bond with Israel. And they still have that ‘Go West’ attitude, the pioneer mentality. That helps maintain the connection when problems arise from time to time. The Americans no longer look to Europe first, and they take a very cautious stance toward the Middle East. The debacle in Iraq, the experience of Afghanistan has made them cautious. Over the next 25 to 30 years, the Americans will have to be a counterweight to the other Pacific superpower, China. That’s of crucial importance to the rest of the world.”

At the moment, according to Klose, the Americans are trying to gauge whether Iran can be relied upon to play a stabilizing rather than a destructive role. “The fact that they didn’t insist as a precondition to negotiations that Tehran acknowledge Israel’s right to exist was indeed a mistake. My colleague Ruprecht Polenz (CDU) and I, in our conversations with our US partners, pointed that out numerous times. The Americans should have insisted on securing a declaration regarding Israel’s right to exist, while addressing Iran’s security needs.”

Over five decades of German-Israeli relations, which people played an especially important role? “Ambassadorial greats like Klaus Schütz, Rudolf Dressler. Israel’s first ambassador in Bonn, Asher Ben-Natan, was a man of genuine substance. On the political side, we shouldn’t forget Konrad Adenauer, who understood the enormous historical and strategic importance of this relationship. The President of the World Jewish Congress, Nahum Goldmann, to whom Adenauer always lent an ear. In his political thinking, Helmut Schmidt was always keenly aware of the importance of this relationship. The same is true for Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl. But the pragmatist Angela Merkel is also reliable with respect to Israel. In excitable times, like now, it’s an advantage to not be of an excitable nature.”

How can we support and expand German-Israeli relations? “First and foremost, that requires bringing people together. In all areas. We need much closer cooperation between universities and research. That’s in Germany’s interest as well, because what Israel is able to accomplish as a small country with a relatively small population is quite astounding. My own experience shows that the best way to accomplish this is by promoting interactions and exchanges among young people. Why am I an advocate of transatlantic relations? Because I went to school in Clinton, Iowa…”

What serves Germany’s interest when it comes to Israel and the Mideast? “There’s a great danger of nuclear armament in that region. This is true not only with respect to Iran, but to other countries that might follow in Iran’s footsteps. It’s a small world, and Europe is within reach. Germany should pursue a very firm Mideast policy. Europe as a whole needs to pay more attention to the vicinity, also because the US is in the midst of a transition process. The Americans have told us they would help us if it came right down to it, but we need to attend to our own problems on our periphery. We’ve already missed one major opportunity. When Mali’s domestic security began to crumble, we should have sent the German-French brigade, on the 50th anniversary of the Elysée treaty. That would have sent a signal. The German Bundestag would have agreed…”

“We have only a few true partners in the Mideast. The most important is Israel, the only democracy in the region. We need to pay attention to Lebanon, and Jordan. Those countries need to be supported, and they shouldn’t be left to deal with the refugee problem on their own. So there’s a lot that needs to be done. But are we doing it? No. It’s not a priority at the moment.”

Hans-Ulrich Klose talked to Elisabeth Neu

Photo Credit: Johannes Rau-Stipendiaten/PAD, JVG

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