Libya Accelerates German/Arabian-Peninsula Alliance
Quietly, largely behind the scenes, Germany is building an alliance with Arabian Peninsula nations that is destined to become very significant in Middle Eastern affairs.
While the penetration by German interests in both Egypt and Libya was quite significant during the latter half of the 20th century, it is in the Gulf states that Germany is now beginning to concentrate its Middle Eastern activities.
The motives that drive German Middle Eastern strategy, in particular given the present state of Egypt and Libya, are threefold: assuring continuing access to the region’s oil and gas resources, protection of Germany’s Middle Eastern investments, and creating a beachhead to stem the northward push of pan-Islamism.
Germany’s refusal to back the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya is joined to its need to protect significant German business interests in that country from a Qadhafi backlash. If there is a regime change in Libya, this could destroy the partnership between Tripoli and Berlin that has guaranteed Germany a reliable source of oil, enabled significant German business investment and helped stem the flow of undesirable migrants to Europe.
It should be noted that in exchange for favor received to date, Germany has supplied Libya with arms and combat methods, both since employed in Qadhafi ‘s brutal put-down of the revolutionary insurrection. In addition, German-Foreign-Policy.com reports that “Over the past three years alone, Libya has received more than €80 million in license-required German exports—mainly communications equipment and helicopters, such as those being used by the military to repress the demonstrators” (February 23).
The need for the protection of German assets in Libya has contributed significantly to Berlin’s support of the repressive Qadhafi regime. This support of Qadhafi by Berlin has meant that German companies have significantly increased their exports to Libya in successful competition against business rivals. In fact, German exports to Libya increased by over 20 percent in 2009.
A cursory glance at the most significant German interests in Libya yields the following:
Germany’s support for Qadhafi’s repressive regime was unequivocal right up to the eve of Tripoli’s brutal response to the current insurrection. Since then, public relations with the international community demand that Berlin be somewhat vocal in condemning Qadhafi’s monstrous methods in putting down the insurrection. However, the German government dare not be seen to support any overt military action against the Qadhafi regime for fear of losing the great favor it has enjoyed from this unstable dictator to its own benefit.
Yet, vital as Libya is to Germany, there is another piece of territory Germany sees as even more crucial to its hegemonic strategy, particularly if it loses influence in North Africa: the Arabian Peninsula.
The German navy has significant deployment in the Mediterranean protecting the nation’s interests across what Winston Churchill called “the soft underbelly of Europe.” This is by virtue of its UN mandate to contribute to Mediterranean security. But it is the continuing Deutsche Marine deployments off the coast of Lebanon and off the Horn of Africa that are crucial toeholds to building a future German presence from the Levant to the Gulf of Oman. It is in this region that Germany’s most crucial alliance in the Middle East will evolve.
To this end, German investment in the Arabian Peninsula has recently been stepped up.
Perceiving the danger of Iran filling the vacuum created by inevitable withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, foreign-policy advisers to the German government have counseled a closer relationship between Berlin and Riyadh. This they see as necessary to counter Iran’s influence in the region and limit the risk of Iran restricting access to the area’s energy resources by the West.
The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (swp) has observed, “The containment of the Iranian hegemonic ambitions, not just in the Gulf region, but also in Palestinian areas, in Lebanon and in Syria, has become Saudi Arabia’s most important regional political objective” (December 2008).
This is a sensitive issue to Germany, for it does not wish to fully alienate Iran for fear of being cut off from that nation’s rich pool of resources. Hence the ongoing trade between Germany and Iran, especially in engineering products, not to discount those that can also be used in Iran’s nuclear program.
Thus the swp calls for a “clever linkage of a course of containment with repeated offers of cooperation, [which] could be the basis of a common Iran strategy for Americans, Europeans and pro-Western Arab states” (ibid.).
This explains the current flurry of activity in Washington and Berlin surrounding recent Saudi raids into Bahrain.
The tiny Gulf state of Bahrain has been of strategic interest to the West since Great Britain established a naval base there in 1935. Following Bahrain’s independence in 1971, the British presence there was replaced by that of the U.S. Navy. Bahrain became the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, charged with securing American interests in the Mideast. It is from this base that the allied war in Afghanistan is being resourced and Western efforts around the Horn of Africa coordinated.
The current explosion of sectarian violence in Bahrain has the European Union deeply concerned. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt expressed a prevailing sentiment in Europe when last Wednesday he blogged, “While there was most likely initially no Iranian interference, the opportunities for Iran to take advantage of the situation now undeniably grow.”
According to EU Observer, one EU source stated, “What is happening in Bahrain is Sunni versus Shia, Saudi Arabia versus Iran. It’s big powers facing off against each other in a small place. It’s really explosive.” Another EU contact noted, “If Saudi Arabia and Iran become openly involved, it could become much more dangerous than Libya.”
The rebellion in Bahrain is catalyzing an alliance of Sunni powers. Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all decided to send security forces to Bahrain to assist in quelling the current protests.
The Saudi government has publicly declared that it will apply all necessary force against the rebel Shiites to ensure that Sunnis remains secure in their reign over the Shiite majority population in Bahrain.
For the past month Germany has been monitoring the scene in Bahrain with growing apprehension. Similar to its deals with Libya, Germany has contributed to the buildup of arms in support of the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa clan in Bahrain, especially the supply of submachine guns and ammunition.
Germany has supplied Bahrain with naval patrol boats dating back to the time the Middle East was destabilized by the deposing of the shah of Iran. In more recent years, German arms exports to Bahrain have been stepped up, especially arms of a type traditionally used to put down insurrection. It is from this stock of armaments that Bahrain has drawn for deployment against the Shiite rebels in recent days.
German-Foreign-Policy.com reports that there are rumors that Rheinmetall, the German armaments giant, is presently bidding on a contract for the further provision to Bahrain of “combat material specifically deemed for the suppression of rebellions” (February 22).
German elites are watching unfolding events across the North African rim. The significance of France possibly leading the air strikes on Libya is historic. It is significant in that for the first time since World War ii, a European power has been first to strike in a Western coalition war. It is doubly significant in that the United States, which has led all allied strikes in combat since World War ii, was third in line in entering the action. Second was Britain, giving credence to the newly formed Anglo-French defense alliance. But of great significance also in the Libyan affair is Germany’s absence, for the moment, from the scene.
Some have called this a cowardly act motivated by domestic political reasons, with Chancellor Merkel facing three crucial state elections this month and not wishing to risk an electorate backlash for dragging Germany into combat in the Libyan civil war.
However, such cursory observations miss the point. Germany simply has far more at stake in Libya than any other nation involved in the Western alliance. Nevertheless, one wonders what Germany’s decision might have been if ex-Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had still been in office.
Either way, the thing to really watch for in terms of Germany’s future Middle East strategy will be initiatives designed to shore up security in the Levant—Syria, Lebanon and Israel—and the consolidation of an alliance with the Arabian Peninsula nations.
That alliance was prophesied by God, 3,000 years ago, in Psalm 83. Inspired to look three millennia ahead, the psalmist was given a vision of the alliance that would form between the modern-day descendants of Assyria—Germany—and certain of the descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham, against the descendants of Abraham’s grandson Jacob, who became the nations of Israel called “thy people” in that psalm.
And it’s that alliance that has just been accelerated by events of the past few months rippling across North Africa from Tunisia to Bahrain.
Watch for Germany to play both sides against the middle in Libya, to its own advantage, and, in particular, to become more overt in its foreign policy in the Arabian Peninsula.