German Angle

Franz Josef JungAs European nations have been attempting to overcome cold feet to send troops to southern Lebanon as part of the UN solution to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Germany has faced an interesting dilemma. Because of its past aggression against the Jews, Germany does not believe that it should put itself into a situation where its troops might have to fight against the Israelis. Germany, therefore, will not contribute a contingent to the UN force in southern Lebanon. This is understandable but has presented a unique kind of estoppel in international affairs: is Germany forever estopped from participating in a situation in which its troops might need to engage Israeli troops in combat? Nevertheles, Germany’s Defense Minister, Franz Josef Jung, pictured here (hat tip: Die Welt) has indicated that Germany will contribute to the effort by providing sea power, with as many as 1000 troops, to patrol Lebanon’s waters and prevent new shipments of arms. Jung suggested that Germany could take the lead in this role, and warned the German public that this potentially dangerous role could also result in combat situations where the crews of ships loaded with arms for Hezbollah might resist inspections by the German presence.

Meanwhile, Richard Herzinger, a German commentator, is skeptical about the prospects of success for this new UN force. He believes that only NATO would have been capable of fulfilling this mission:

Militärisch wären nur Nato-Verbände in der Lage, einer waffenstarrenden, von Iran ausgerüsteten und mit einem sicheren syrischen Hinterland versehenen Hisbollah-Miliz im Libanon Paroli zu bieten.

[Only a NATO contingent would have the military capability to defy a Hezbollah that is heavily armed by Iran and equipped with a safe, Syrian hinterland.]

Herzinger also questions whether Germany would really be prevented from participation by its past, especially considering that, in practice, the point of the mission will be to protect Israel’s northern border from Hezbollah attacks. He implies that the world would understand it more as a “lame excuse” to get out of participating rather than as a course of action necessitated by Germany’s past. In spite of this view, I believe Germany has acted prudently and wisely in avoiding participation in this instance. I share Herzinger’s view that Germany can play a bigger role generally in these UN missions and that it need not spare its soldiers from combat situations because of its past. But in this case, policing the waters seems to be the correct thing for Germany to do.



  1. I learnt a new word: estoppel!

    Perhaps it is a sign of how things have changed, but I sense nothing untoward about the possibility of Germans participating in this conflict. Thing is John, do we really believe that this UN force will resort to arms, Germans or not? I doubt it. They’ll sit and watch.

    Interestingly, one the UNIFIL guys killed by Israel was an Austrian.


  2. Hebollah enjoys the support of almost two million people. It’s professional fighting force numbers only several hundred fighters. It relies heavily on mobilizing reservists in times of need. Therefore any attempt to confront Hezbollah militarily is futile. Even if Hezbollah’s military was entirely wiped out, the Shia population in southern Lebanon would quickly replenish Hezbollah’s losses.

    Hirzinger fails to realize that the source of Hezbollah’s military strength is the population rather than its armed forces. Unless one is willing to resort to Stalinist means, i.e. to relocate the Shia population in southern Lebanon and resettle the area with a more cooperative ethnic group, there is no military solution to this problem.

    Clausewitz‘s philosophical work On War is a great analytical tool for this type of conflict. There are many resources that a state at war can muster. Armed forces are only one, usually they are not even the most important one.

    Others include the economy, the state’s geography and population.

    Hezbollah’s power stems from the support of its people and foreign subsidies. Just like the French could vanquish the Spanish armed forces but not the Spanish people, Israel could defeat Hezbollah fighters but not Hezbollah’s people.

    To suggest that NATO could somehow succeed where Israel has failed reveals that Hirzinger does not understand the strategic nature of this conflict.

    Here is the good news: since the people are the source of Hezbollah’s power, it can only dominate on defense. Its offensive capabillities are limited. Hezbollah can only operate effectively where its supporters reside. Beyond these boundaries it can be a nuissance, a deadly one, to be sure, but not a strategic threat to Israel or anyone else.

    We need to be patient and improve our situation bit by bit. Take what you can get instead of pursuing the impossible.

    It’s hard to settle for the imperfect but Israel and the United States were better off before the war than after the war. Lets remember that before we lose self-control again.


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