Amid Iran deal tensions, Merkel to visit Israel in October

Israel and Germany disagree on Iran and the Palestinians, but Berlin remains a key Israeli ally and top trading partner

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) in Berlin, Germany on June 4, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) in Berlin, Germany on June 4, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to visit Israel in early October, her first visit in four years, amid growing US-Europe tension over Iran.

Merkel’s Germany is leading efforts to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear program, and which has long been denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has also allied closely with the administration of US President Donald Trump, who left the agreement in tatters by withdrawing the US earlier this year.

Germany has also criticized the Netanyahu government’s policies toward the Palestinians.

At the same time, Germany remains a key Israeli ally, the supplier of Israel’s nuclear-capable naval submarines and the Jewish state’s largest European trading partner.

Merkel’s visit comes as part of a broader government-to-government summit that will bring several German cabinet ministers to Israel for meetings with their counterparts. It follows a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Berlin in June.

Merkel herself last visited Israel in February 2014.

According to the Ynet news site, Merkel will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa during her visit.

The tensions over Iran were highlighted Wednesday in the German foreign minister’s call for Europe to create a payments system independent of the United States in a bid to help keep the nuclear deal alive.

Heiko Maas’s suggestion was part of a wider-ranging interview in Wednesday’s edition of the daily Handelsblatt on Germany’s future strategy toward the US. He said he envisions Europe taking a “balanced share of responsibility” and being “a counterbalance when the US crosses red lines.”

Though Maas conceded that the US and Europe have been drifting apart since well before Donald Trump’s presidency, he criticized recent decisions such as Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

“In this situation, it is of strategic significance that we say clearly to Washington: We want to work together, but we will not allow you to act over our heads to our detriment,” Maas wrote.

“That is why it was right to legally protect European companies from sanctions,” he added.

“That is why it is indispensable to strengthen European autonomy by setting up payment channels that are independent of the US, creating a European monetary fund and setting up an independent SWIFT system.”

He didn’t elaborate. SWIFT is the system overseeing international bank transfers.

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