The possibility that German soldiers will be stationed onIsrael's northern border as part of a multinational force creates a complicated dilemma for Germany, well-covered by the media and discussed among the public. The BBC reported that, in recent days, German newspapers were busy reporting the as of yet theoretical issue, with many arguments for and against.
"History is part of the past, but the history of the Holocaust is part of the German present," read German newspaper 'Frankfurter Rundschau'. We cannot allow a German soldier, even in theory, "to be put in a situation where he may point his weapon at an Israeli," the article continued.
A survey from last weekend's edition of Der Speigel weekly magazine revealed that 53 percent of those surveyed opposed German participation in such a force.
"In that area, Germans should be diplomats and mediators, but not soldiers," Green Party member Jerzy Montag told the newspaper.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's largest newspapers, wrote that the fact politicians have the audacity even to debate such a topic is "amazing". Austrian paper Der Standard wrote that it was "impossible that grandchildren of Holocaust perpetrators potentially find themselves in a situation where they shoot at grandchildren of Holocaust survivors."
The German constitution after the Holocaust originally forbade the deployment of German soldiers outside of national borders. Twelve years ago, the constitution was changed to allow German troops to take part in peace-keeping missions around the world. Since then, they have participated in missions in the Balkans, Ethiopia, Sudan, the Congo and Afghanistan. However, stationing armed German soldiers on the northern border of Israel evokes echoes of the past and complicates the issue.
German foreign minister: History compels us
When discussions began regarding an interim multinational force to deploy in southern Lebanon, until an appropriate deployment of Lebanese armed forces is possible, German Minister of Defense Franz Josef Jung was decisive in his desire to integrate German soldiers into the international effort.
Monday of this week, he said that "Germany cannot refuse such a peace-keeping mission" if the country is asked to participate in it, and if the requisite conditions are fulfilled. The conditions for integration of German troops into a multinational force expounded by Jung were quite high: a ceasefire, return of the kidnapped soldiers, and agreement from both sides to allow a German presence. He later refused to repeat his statements and half-heartedly reported that the issue was no longer on the table.
In contrast, German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is reasonably certain that Germany's history compels its involvement in this situation. "I believe that it is appropriate, considering the joint history of Israel and Germany," he told the ZDF television station.
The Social Democratic Party, of which Steinmeier is a member, as well as the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union, are both divided on the issue. Three German opposition parties – the Green Party, the Free Democratic Party and the Left Party – oppose the deployment of German forces to the area.
Almer Bruk, head of the Christian Democrats in the European parliament, opposes German participation. He believes that it is not acceptable to place German soldiers in a situation where they may be forced to point their weapons at Israelis.
Op-ed editor for Der Spiegel, Malta Lemming, claims that such a scenario would violate the primary lesson that Germans learned in the previous century – "Never again". While he says that Germany should be allowed to take part in the multinational force, he states that they should be deployed as observers on the Lebanon-Syria border. Lemming posits that perhaps in ten or fifteen years German soldiers will be able to execute such a mission.
Jorg Himmelreich, a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, conjectures that the controversial scenario is unrealistic and that it is likelier that German soldiers would come into conflict with Hizbullah operatives, not Israeli soldiers.
Despite this possibility, Stephen Kramer, Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, believes that at no point in time will German soldiers be able to approach Israeli borders.
"Neither great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren…I cannot imagine it. Anywhere else in the world, yes, but not where there is a possibility of armed conflict between a German soldier and an Israeli soldier."