January 4, 2011 at 2:03 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In 2006, Germany was selected to lead the UN maritime force that was to be stationed off the coast of Lebanon. This was the single largest deployment of the German Navy since World War II.

In the aftermath of the Israeli Operation Accountability enacted to weaken Hezbollah’s ability to bombard Israel, the UNIFIL operation was restarted to monitor the Lebanese-Israeli border. The UNIFIL mission would ultimately be proven as almost completely ineffective since not only was Hezbollah allowed to continue to exist in Lebanon proper but its political subversion of the Lebanese state apparatus actually increased, as did in time its arsenal with more and better weaponry supplied by Iran and Syria. During the hostilities of the summer of 2006, the Israeli government had warned that if Tel Aviv was hit by Hezbollah’s rockets, Israel would have retaliated against Damascus; now that Hezbollah possesses the ballistic technology to do precisely that, UNIFIL as an interposition force is obsolete.

Part of the UNIFIL mandate is also the monitoring of the Lebanese territorial waters and the prevention of smuggling or belligerent acts off Lebanon’s coast. This ‘Maritime Task Force’ was mobilised in September of 2006 and Germany mandated to lead it. The choice of Germany was due to a number of added benefits: it was a neutral party to the conflict, with bona fides credentials in both Israel and the Arab world and it possessed the military and financial means to immediately dispatch a naval force meeting the required specifications.

The Marineeinsatzverband was to have three components: a force of coastal patrols, a number of frigates for the high seas and some logistical vessels. On the 21st of September a fleet sailed from Wilhelmshaven headed by the Bremen class frigate Karlsruhe. Behind the Karlsruhe followed the two Danish corvettes Ravnen and Glenten, and the German Gepard class patrol boats Nerz, Dachs, Ozelot and Hyaene. They’d be eventually joined by the Brandenburg class frigate Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (after conducting boarding exercises in the bay of Biscay), the Berlin class supply ship Frankfurt-am-Mein and the supply ship Elbe.

In so proceeding, Berlin completed a century of direct naval intervention in the Mediterranean which began with the Tangiers Crisis of 1905/6. But that which is different this time is the geopolitical context: be it the Imperial Navy in Morocco, the Kriegsmarine in the western Mediterranean or now the German Navy in Lebanon, the need for an external power to deploy to the middle sea is a constant but in this intervention Germany broke with its traditional Arab policy. For the first time Berlin did not conduct a major naval deployment to the Mediterranean intending to prop up Arab forces against its continental Europe rivals. It is also true that Germany’s continental rivals no longer control the Middle East and that Germany’s Arab policy is no longer as needed. Yet Germany is still held back by the pacifist indoctrination of the post-war and its consequential constructivist theories which require international mandates for German military action.

These are also the ones that give this deployment its less original character: it was not the first time the German navy intervened in the Mediterranean at the service of a universalist doctrine… However, just as integrating the UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force on behalf of the UN’s peacekeeping efforts was universalist, Berlin has on other occasions intervened in the name of much more national goals. In 1999 the Deutsche Marine dispatched a frigate and a supply ship to support NATO’s campaign against Yugoslavia and most recently the frigate Sachsen was deployed to Somali waters integrating operation Atalanta, also under the banner of the Atlantic Alliance, to fight Somali piracy. But even these deployments depended on multilateral mandates.

It’d be interesting to assess whether the current right-wing government coalition would’ve been as voluntarist as the centrist SPD-CDU coalition and its SPD Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was.

Also noteworthy is the German Navy’s clear readiness and resources for force projection. Provided that the EU’s southern belt continues to experience financial difficulties, Germany may very well be enticed to intervene in the Mediterranean with its own resources in a near future, so as to not depend on the French, the British or on local proxies.

1 Comment

  1. M. Silva said,

    (this article was referred in)
    Iran Provokes—Germany Reacts
    by Ron Fraser

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