Containment Course

GAZA/BERLIN/TEHERAN | | iranisrael

GAZA/BERLIN/TEHERAN (Own report) - The German government is resolutely pressing for rapid deployment of German repressive forces at the border of the Gaza Strip. In Berlin one has been hearing for days that a "team of experts" of the German federal police is ready to fly to the Middle East. Up to now, Egypt has refused to relinquish its sovereignty and allow German "advisors" to be involved in its border controls. The German Foreign Ministry's more far-reaching demand for a German military mission in Gaza, has also not been approved by the local authorities. But because of the struggle with Iran over hegemony, the German government is very attentive to questions of reconstruction. In the aftermath of the Israeli aggression on Lebanon in 2006, Teheran rendered tangible support to the local reconstruction effort and thereby, won sympathy. This runs contrary to Western Middle East policy and, if Berlin has its way, will not be repeated in the Gaza Strip. Government advisors are working out strategies for prohibiting the rise of Iran to become a leading Middle Eastern power, even beyond the current crisis.

Ready to Fly

The German government has reinforced its efforts to have German repressive forces sent to the Gaza Strip or to its borders. Just a few days ago, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gernot Erler (SPD), asserted that if both parties to the conflict agree, one should "seriously consider" the deployment of German soldiers in Gaza.[1] This "agreement" has not been forthcoming. Berlin is simultaneously seeking to obtain the accord for sending federal police officers to Gaza's borders. Since last week, one has been hearing almost daily that a "team of experts" is ready to fly. The Undersecretary of State in charge, August Hanning, is emphatically negotiating with the heads of the secret services of Egypt, Jordan and Israel, among others. Hanning was successful in effecting an exchange of prisoners between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah, already during his term of office as the President of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service. Egypt is still unwilling to allow German interference in its sovereign actions along its borders.

Against Iran

Berlin sees its deployment of police and customs officials in Lebanon as its model. Whereas the German Navy is using its deployment off the Lebanese coast under UN flag - UNIFIL - to setup a radar system - complete with command headquarters - for the surveillance of the country's maritime borders, in a second step, the German government has deployed officers along the Lebanese borders with Syria.[2] Still today, German federal police officers are actively "advising" Lebanese personnel. Also in this case, the official objective is the prevention of an influx of undesirable weapons, whose origin, as in Gaza, is thought to be Iran. Teheran is seeking both by way of the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, to enhance its influence along the Mediterranean and is financially supporting them. But this does not mean a unilateral dependency. According to American sources, Hamas receives considerable financial assistance also from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Winner of the War

In its struggle with Iran over hegemony, the German government is now also intensifying its efforts for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged Gaza Strip. This is a lesson drawn from experiences with the Lebanon war, where soon after the end of the war in the summer of 2006, the reconstruction was already booming - with the help of Hezbollah's personnel and Iran's finances. Before long, Iranian companies were even participating in the reconstruction. Western political advisors have raised strong criticisms, not least of all, because of the sympathy Teheran won through these efforts. Already in September 2006, the Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP), in Munich analyzed the situation as follows: "at the moment, it seems evident that there was but one winner of the military confrontation between Israel and the Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic of Iran."[3]

Reconstruction Competition

To prevent a similar development in the Gaza Strip - Teheran has already earmarked aid measures for the population of Gaza - the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has announced considerable activities to be undertaken by Germany and the EU. Berlin has already augmented this year's humanitarian aid budget from twelve to thirteen million Euros. Humanitarian aide and reconstruction measures constitute 2 aspects of the five point plan, which, in Steinmeier's eyes, forms the basis for the EU to intervene in the Gaza Strip. According to these guidelines, Berlin and Brussels would not only be furnishing emergency aid, but also organizing a reconstruction conference around the elimination of the war damage and not leave the benefits in prestige to Teheran.[4]

Strategic Partner

Saudi Arabia has already announced a US $1 billion donation for the reconstruction of Gaza.[5] Berlin's government advisors are recommending a closer cooperation with that country. Since the war waged by the US has eliminated Iraq, as an independent power factor in the Middle East area of resources, Iran's influence has persistently grown. This development is seen with disapproval by the Saudi rulers. "The containment of the Iranian hegemonic ambitions, not just in the Gulf region, but also in Palestinian areas, in Lebanon and in Syria has become Saudi Arabia's most important regional political objective," summarizes the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, suggesting a German-Saudi common approach to dealing with Teheran.[6] The aim is to limit Iran's influence, because Iran, as a predominating power at the Persian Gulf, would be able to tighten controls over the area's resources and make Western access more difficult. At the same time, Teheran should not be alienated, because it has its own wealth of resources. "The clever linkage of a course of containment with repeated offers of cooperation," writes the SWP, "could be the basis of a common Iran strategy for Americans, Europeans and pro-Western Arab states."

[1] "Einseitige Debatte völlig unverständlich"; Süddeutsche Zeitung 09.01.2009. See also A Balance of Weaknesses and Margin of Maneuver in the Middle East
[2] Unterstützung für den Libanon wird fortgesetzt; www.auswaertiges-amt.de 01.06.2008. See also Zur Zusammenarbeit bringen and Independent Presence
[3] Nicola Pedde: Das iranische Dilemma; www.cap-lmu.de
[4] Gaza: Steinmeier schlägt Europäischen Arbeitsplan vor; www.auswaertiges-amt.de 20.01.2009
[5] Saudi-Arabien spendet eine Milliarde Dollar; Süddeutsche Zeitung 20.01.2009
[6] Guido Steinberg: Saudi-Arabien als Partner deutscher Nahostpolitik; SWP-Studie S 35, Dezember 2008