Germany will not take part in a US-led naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz because its policy is to ease tensions with Iran, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on July 31.
The US had requested that Germany join France and the UK in a mission to secure shipping through the strait—the world’s busiest chokepoint for energy shipments, with around a fifth of the world’s oil passing through it—and to “combat Iranian aggression”, the US Embassy in Berlin said on July 30.
However, Maas responded: “Germany will not take part in the sea mission presented and planned by the United States. There is no military solution.”
Observers are particularly watching the UK’s standpoint on matters given that at the tail-end of the Theresa May administration British officials were urging that a purely European naval force be put together to safeguard shipping moving in and out of the Persian Gulf, but since Boris Johnson took over as prime minister last week—at which point analysts noted how reliant he might become on the US in producing a winning hand in his Brexit showdown with the EU—the UK appears to have warmed to the idea of working with the Americans to escort oil tankers and any other vulnerable vessels.
Washington has in the past two months accused Iran of using limpet mines to disable several oil tankers in the Sea of Oman—something Tehran denies—while Iran lately seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in apparent retaliation for Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker accused of violating EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria. Iran says the UK acted according to a request from the US, while the British said the move was an independent decision.
In Germany, there is resistance within conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, especially from her junior Social Democrat (SPD) partners, to participating in any US-led mission.
The comments from Maas, a Social Democrat, went further than a statement issued earlier by a German government spokeswoman, who said Berlin had not offered to join a planned US-naval mission.
“The government is reticent about the concrete U.S. proposal and so has not made an offer,” government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told a news conference in Berlin after a cabinet meeting.
Reporting from Brussels, Reuters said Germany’s new Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s protege, struck a softer note, saying no final decision had been taken but she, too, stressed that the Europeans had different views from the United States.
“We now have a first general request from the United States, the other international partners for a possible mission,” she told reporters before a meeting with Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
“We are reviewing these requests, in close cooperation with Britain and France, and we are doing this against the backdrop of our political and diplomatic goals and in this overall assessment a corresponding decision will be taken,” she reportedly said.
Since the end of World War II, Germany has been reluctant to get involved in military missions abroad. A Civey poll showed on July 30 that 56% of Germans were against joining an international military mission in the Strait of Hormuz.
The US is using a campaign of severe sanctions to strangle Iran’s economy. It wants to force the Iranians to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal. Big concessions are wanted from Tehran on its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and on its backing for militias across the Middle East that are variously enemies of Israel and Arab allies of the US.
The remaining signatories of the nuclear deal—Iran, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China—remain committed to the accord. High-level meetings between the signatories have been taking place to try and strengthen efforts to save it. But Iran is angered at how little Europe in particular has done to help protect its trade and economy from the US “economic war” and on July 31 issued fresh statements saying it was set to further reduce its commitment to the nuclear deal if more assistance is not forthcoming in the very near future.
It is against such a backdrop that the unexplained attacks on oil tankers began, with some hardliners in Iran renewing warnings that the Islamic Republic could blockade the Strait of Hormuz if the US does not back off from its policy of trying to force all Iranian oil off world export markets.