Germany commits to Middle East engagement in defence review

Olaf Scholz says Israel-Gaza war shows importance of troop deployments in Lebanon and Iraq

German warships are deployed as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. AP
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Germany has committed to engaging in the Middle East and Africa in its first review of defence policy since the war in Ukraine shook it out of an age of pacifism.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Friday that the conflict in Gaza showed the "great importance" of Germany's military presence in Lebanon and Iraq.

A new 19-page defence blueprint, the first since 2011, is also the first to specifically call for a German role in the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa.

Germany's military role in those regions "primarily serves the purpose of fighting terrorism and the causes and consequences of state fragility, as well as supporting regional stability and peaceful co-existence", the document says.

"Developments in Europe and its neighbourhood, especially North and West Africa, the Sahel region and the Middle East, can hold risks and threats for German and European security and are therefore of military-strategic importance."

A "particular importance" is attached to Israel's security, it says, with Germany this week renewing its vows of support to Israel as it marked 85 years since the Nazi terror of Kristallnacht that presaged the Holocaust.

Germany's parliament last month approved the extension of a 500-troop mission in Iraq that is meant to prevent a resurgence of ISIS in the country.

A German role in the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Unifil, has also been prolonged until 2024, while its navy has missions patrolling the Mediterranean and upholding an arms embargo on Libya.

"In recent weeks we have once again been reminded of the great importance of our deployment in the Middle East, with Unifil and in Iraq," Mr Scholz told a military conference in Berlin.

He said the year and a half since Russia invaded Ukraine had changed "nothing short of our military culture, the DNA of security" in post-war Germany.

"More than ever we bear international responsibility and, where necessary, we must live up to it with military engagement," Mr Scholz said.

The chancellor last year announced a €100 billion ($106.81 billion) upgrade to a German military widely regarded as having fallen into disrepair after the end of the Cold War.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Germany hopes to hit the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP in defence next year, as part of what Mr Scholz calls the "Zeitenwende", or changing of the times.

Mr Pistorius handed the new guidelines on Friday to Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who praised Germany for transforming its military.

The new policies "demonstrate that you are delivering on the Zeitenwende, not only in words but also in deeds", Mr Stoltenberg said.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 2:38 PM