United States’ Iran-show is not moving smoothly. It is not always getting wholehearted support from all of its friends. The Strait of Hormuz initiative by the U.S. is part of the show, and it is facing the same problem. An example is Germany.
Germany will refuse to take part in a U.S.-led maritime mission in the Strait of Hormuz, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced.
Maas said that there “cannot be a military solution” to the current crisis in the Persian Gulf.
Speaking in Warsaw on Wednesday, Maas said that Germany will turn down Washington’s request, which was revealed by the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on Tuesday.
The request from Washington was a joint U.S., British, and French operation is aimed at protecting sea traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, and combating so-called “Iranian aggression”.
The mission was conceived following Iran’s seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker earlier this month, itself widely considered a tit-for-tat response to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar several weeks earlier.
That Germany would refuse to assist the American-led mission is no surprise. Washington’s request was the subject of intense debate in Berlin, with opposition parties on the left and right pressuring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government into saying no.
“We have to avoid further escalation in the Strait of Hormuz,” Maas said on Wednesday. “That has always been out position.”
Compared to the U.S. and some of its allies, Germany has enjoyed relatively cordial relations with Tehran since the 1970s.
Germany remains a party to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal), a landmark agreement that granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for a curb on its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the deal last year, precipitating the current standoff with Tehran.
Despite Germany’s refusal to join the U.S.-led mission, some politicians in Berlin remain open to another kind of deployment.
“The alternative is a European mission, if necessary without the British, if they decide for the U.S.,” Norbert Roettgen, a member of Merkel’s CDU party, told German media on Tuesday.
German govt split over sending navy to Gulf
A prospect of German warships being sent to patrol the troubled waters of the Strait of Hormuz has ignited a debate in Berlin.
Critics are warning against joining a potential US- and UK-led mission.
Proponents of the London-proposed mission say Germany should take part just because it is an inherent part of global trade.
“Hardly any other country is as dependent on the freedom of international shipping as export champion Germany,” former envoy to the US Wolfgang Ischinger told Die Welt. That said, Germans should not just “watch from the sidelines,” he argued.
His words were echoed by the influential Association of German Industries, whose president told the paper that such a mission would be “a question of solidarity among us Europeans.”
But the opposition slammed the proposal, warning that events could ultimately spin out of control. Germany “should not walk into the trap of Trump and his poodle Johnson and let itself be led into a conflict or the preparation for war against Iran,” Sevim Dagdelen, a Left Party MP, was quoted by Deutsche Welle as warning.
The Social Democrats (SPD), the junior coalition partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition government, were equally unappreciative of the idea.
Karl-Heinz Brunner, an SPD member of the parliamentary defense committee, said that while maritime shipping is important, securing it could be done through diplomacy.
“In the current situation, military options could contribute to further destabilization,” he cautioned.
Later in the day, the US embassy in Berlin told DPA news agency that Washington had formally asked Germany to embark on the mission to “combat Iranian aggression.”
The embassy maintained that the government was “clear that freedom of navigation should be protected. Our question is protected by whom?”
That aside, sending ships to the Gulf could be akin to a ‘mission impossible’ for the military. Last year, it was reported that Germany’s Navy is running out of combat-capable warships and had six out of fifteen frigates decommissioned.
Newer-generation warships are either going through trials or are under construction.
Last week, the UK called for a joint effort to protect the safety of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow but important waterway that connects the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean.
The call was made shortly after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the area.
The seizure followed an earlier incident in which British Royal Marines and Gibraltar police seized the Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1 off the southern coast of Spain. London said the ship was suspected of carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, but Tehran denied any wrongdoing.
Tehran has lashed out at the prospective European mission, saying that Western nations will jeopardize security in waters mainly shared between Iran, the UAE and Oman. The effort “naturally carries a hostile message, [and] is provocative and will increase tension,” Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiei was quoted by AFP as saying.