Standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country “has only one place” during the hard times in which the Jewish state finds itself, “and that is alongside Israel.”
Scholz was the first among several Western leaders expected to make solidarity visits in the coming days as Israel fights a war against Gaza Strip terrorists, with US President Joe Biden set to come on Wednesday and reports that the French president and British prime minister could also soon arrive.
“It is very important to say this today here during these difficult times in Israel: Germany’s history and the responsibility it had for the Holocaust requires us to help maintain the security and existence of Israel,” Scholz said.
At the same time, he stressed the German and Israeli commitment to democracy, rights and laws, and said Germany “is not indifferent to the humanitarian situation in Gaza” and that he and Netanyahu discussed “improving” conditions there.
Netanyahu, for his part, said Hamas was responsible for harm to civilians in Gaza and was “committing a double war crime” by hiding behind innocents. “We’re calling on the civilians to leave… go south, to safe zones [in southern Gaza]. And Hamas is preventing them, often at gunpoint, from doing so.”
Israel has been engaged in an unprecedented bombardment of Gaza ever since October 7, when thousands of terrorists burst through the border and ravaged Israeli southern communities, killing over 1,300 people, most of them civilians, and abducting another 200 at least. The IDF has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers to the border area ahead of an expected major ground offensive.
Scholz said Germany utterly condemns the “bloodthirsty” Hamas terrorist assault that started the war. He said that “the brutal attack on innocent civilians, the execution of civilians, murders of babies, abduction of women, men and children, and humiliation and parading of Holocaust survivors [before cameras], makes the blood run cold.”
The German leader stated that Israel has the right and obligation under international law to protect its civilians. Noting that there were German citizens among those abducted, Scholz said Berlin would work to help attain their release and the release of all the hostages.
He also warned that “no [outside] actor should see it as a good idea to intervene in this conflict,” in a likely message to Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. The latter has heated up Israel’s northern front in recent days with repeated, but limited, attacks on troops and communities that have led to deaths on both sides.
Biden has warned Hezbollah against launching a war and has moved two carrier strike groups to the region to respond to any potential major threat to Israel’s national security.
‘The battle of civilization against barbarism’
Netanyahu said the Hamas massacres of Israelis were “the worst crimes committed against Jews since the Holocaust,” noting decapitations, rapes, murders of children, abduction of families and more horrors.
“This is the savagery that we only remember from the Nazi crimes of the Holocaust,” the Israeli leader said.
“Hamas are the new Nazis, Hamas is ISIS, in some instances worse than ISIS,” said Netanyahu. “And just as the world united to defeat the Nazis, just as the world united to defeat ISIS, the world has to stand united behind Israel to defeat Hamas.”
The Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas “axis of evil” has “the open goal to eradicate the state of Israel,” he said. Hamas’s open goal was to kill as many Jews as it can. “They would have killed every last one of us, murdered every last one of us if they could; they just don’t have the capacity. But they murdered an extraordinary 1,300 civilians… in American terms, many, many, many 9/11s…. We must take action to defeat Hamas, and to ensure this does not happen again.”
Netanyahu argued that “this is not only our battle — it is our common battle, the battle of civilization against barbarism. And if it’s not stopped here, this savagery will reach you very soon, reach the entire world.
“We have a vested interest, an abiding interest, to make sure that doesn’t happen, and it can only be achieved with the solidarity of the civilized world,” he said. “We appreciate the fact that you come here to stand with us in this battle for the future of civilization,” he told Scholz.
Rockets on departure
The German chancellor headed from Israel to Egypt at the end of his visit.
As he was preparing to fly out on Tuesday night, a rocket barrage was fired at central Israel, and Scholz was rushed to shelter while some of his delegation were forced to hit the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport.
#Raketenalarm in Tel Aviv. Die Regierungsmaschine wird umgehend evakuiert. @Bundeskanzler wird in einen Schutzraum gebracht. Wir legen uns vor dem Flugzeug auf den Boden. @robinalexander_ @frautoroxel pic.twitter.com/OTWV55KUoA
— Sara Sievert (@sara__si) October 17, 2023
German media reported that he watched Iron Dome intercept one or more of the projectiles from inside the sheltered airport area. He also tweeted in support of Israel before finally departing, Channel 12 News reported, at a time when Israel was being blamed for causing a devastating blast at a Gaza hospital, and before Israel had said it was not responsible and that an Islamic Jihad rocket was to blame.
Humanitarian relief — unless it goes to Hamas
At a press conference earlier in the day, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Biden was “not coming to give us a bear hug” — meaning to limit Israel’s freedom of action in the Strip — but rather “to give us a warm embrace, an embrace for every Israeli.”
Israel has since Friday urged some one million people in northern Gaza to evacuate south as it prepares to intensify its operations in the north and launch its ground offensive.
Hanegbi confirmed that Israel had agreed to set up safe zones for civilians in the Strip’s south, where humanitarian aid would also be able to arrive for Gaza innocents. He said Jerusalem and Washington had agreed to work together to prepare a plan to prevent a humanitarian crisis for those who go south.
But he added that the issue of the hostages being held in Gaza was a top priority for Israel, and stressed that humanitarian aid to Gazans would depend on the hundreds of Israeli hostages also receiving humanitarian rights. The Red Cross has been trying for days to gain access to the kidnapped Israelis, so far unsuccessfully.
Hanegbi also warned that if humanitarian aid ends up going “to Hamas, to the butchers,” instead of civilians in need, “it simply won’t exist.”
Hanegbi previously said on Saturday that there were no active negotiation efforts underway by Israel to repatriate the captives held by Gaza terrorists, saying “there is no way right now to have a negotiation” with Hamas.
“Israel will not hold negotiations with an enemy that we have vowed to wipe from the face of the earth,” he said. His comments prompted fury from the families of the missing, with their spokesman accusing the government of abandoning them. However, Netanyahu on Sunday promised representatives of the hostage families that “one of the goals of the war is the return of the captive and missing,” according to a statement from the families that met with him.
Also Tuesday, the US military ordered 2,000 personnel to prepare for deployment to the Middle East as a show of force amid the escalating conflict. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the deployment will allow the United States “to respond more quickly” to the crisis, while the White House stressed it did not intend to put US combat forces on the ground.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said preparing the troops for deployment “is really about sending a signal of deterrence.”
“We don’t want to see this conflict escalate and widen,” Kirby said on CNN. “There are no plans or intentions to put US boots on the ground in combat in Israel.”
US media reported that the troops being readied for deployment would cover support roles, such as medical assistance and handling explosives.