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German Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert. Photo: Re: Publica via Wikimedia Commons
German Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert. Photo: Re: Publica via Wikimedia Commons
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German ambassador to Israel praises new Arrow 3 sale

“The idea is to integrate the system into European air defense, so Arrow 3 will also protect neighboring European countries,” Steffen Seibert tells JNS.

Israel’s recent $3.5 billion sale of the Arrow 3 missile defense system to Germany was the largest deal of its kind in Israeli history. Berlin and Jerusalem received U.S. approval of the deal last week and the first Arrow system is expected to be delivered in 2025. JNS recently sat down with Germany’s Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert to discuss the deal and what it means for Israel-Germany relations.

JNS: What is the significance of this deal for Germany and Israel?

Seibert: The Israeli-German military partnership has become more and more important. If we do actually go through with the acquisition of Arrow 3, this will add a very substantial element to our military relationship. It will also make it more of a two-way street, a development that began already with the German use of Israeli drone systems to protect our soldiers in foreign missions. Now German and Israeli soldiers are training side by side on the Heron TP [unmanned reconnaissance aircraft]. It is moving to see that, and of great symbolic value. 

JNS: The first Arrow systems are expected to arrive in 2025. Is it supposed to protect only Germany or also other countries?

Seibert: Of course, this is about protecting Germany. We need to have a system like this. This is the reason we started the initiative. But the idea is to integrate the system into European air defense, so Arrow 3 will also protect neighboring European countries.

JNS: Why did Germany choose the Arrow 3 out of all potential missile defense systems?

Seibert: The experts looked long and hard at what’s out there. I have great trust in their decision. You in Israel know that you have a very good system and apparently the relevant experts in Germany agree. 

JNS: Some Israeli officials, including the prime minister, said, “Years ago Jews were murdered in Germany, and now we are defending their skies.” How do you feel about these kinds of comments?

Seibert: I’ve heard this from a lot of people and I can understand it. I also see the symbolism in this deal, as I see it when a German fighter plane takes part in the Yom Ha’atzmaut [Israeli Independence Day] overflight here in Israel. We are moving towards a deal in which an Israeli system helps defend Germany and parts of Europe. Anybody with any knowledge of history, of the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of Germany, of the miraculous way in which our bilateral relations have developed in the post-war era—anybody can understand why that would be of such symbolic value.

JNS: How would you describe Israel-Germany relations these days?

Seibert: Our relations are very strong. The relationship we have with Israel is one of the most important relationships we have. It is unique because of the crimes of the Shoah and because of the lessons we Germans have learned. A special commitment to the security of Israel is one of them. There is incredibly close cooperation in every field: Science, for instance. Research cooperation is very strong. There are over 5,000 joint projects conducted by Israeli and German scientists. The economic relationship and the cultural exchanges are very strong. The political relationship is very strong. There’s absolute continuity from one German government to the next when it comes to our friendship with the State of Israel.

JNS: Let’s talk about the Israeli judicial reform. What is the German government’s response to the first part of the reform—the reasonableness bill?

Seibert: Within this good friendship there can also be disagreements and concerns. And we have voiced our concerns over the changes in the judicial system this government is pursuing. We’ve voiced these concerns because our shared values of liberal democracy have for decades been such a strong pillar of the German-Israeli relationship. And when that pillar seems to be affected, it is normal for friends and partners to ask questions and raise concerns. We have done this much like the U.S. has done it. We speak to our Israeli partners about our own democratic experiences through which we have come to appreciate a strong and independent judiciary and Supreme Court. In the end, of course, it is for the Israeli parliament and the Israeli people to decide.

JNS: Has there been a change in the way the German government views Israeli democracy?

Seibert: We see Israel as a strong democracy. There are passionate debates in the Knesset. Germans also see on their TV news the inspiring pictures of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who for 32 weeks have gone out into the streets to demonstrate for their democratic beliefs. This is citizen commitment in the best sense. Now the reasonableness bill is going to be put before your Supreme Court in mid-September. So, like everybody else, I will be excited to hear their decision and not make a comment now. But overall, the planned changes to the judicial system have caused serious concerns; not only in Germany, but also in other countries that are close to Israel and feel committed to Israel.

JNS: Do you think Israel is doing enough to help Ukraine these days, or does Germany expect Israel to do more?

Seibert: Generally speaking, we hope that every country makes clear that it stands with Ukraine, with freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Russia has viciously attacked Ukraine. It has committed and daily continues to commit war crimes. And I know that members of the government and politicians in this country see this very clearly. So, accordingly, we would hope everyone would do what they can to help Ukraine defend itself and win this battle. I know that Israel has certain limitations due to the fact that Russia is practically a neighbor here in Syria, and we take this into account. This has been explained to us many times. Within these limitations, we would hope that Israel will do as much as it possibly can to support Ukraine and help Ukrainian refugees in this country.

JNS: When you and Germany look at the situation right now in Judea and Samaria, does the German government think that Israel is doing enough to calm tensions?

Seibert: Any friend of Israel, anybody who wants Israelis to live in security, must be very worried about the tensions in the occupied territories. We had a horrible terrorist murder this week, when a woman was shot in front of her child. The day before, a father and a son were killed in a car wash.

Of course, we support Israel’s right to defend itself against terror attacks and to apprehend the perpetrators. But we also deplore the very high number of civilian Palestinians who have been killed already this year. We see that cases of settler violence have taken on disturbing proportions. All this leads to an increased state of tension, which is not good for Israel’s security and causes tremendous suffering among the Palestinian population.

It is high time that both sides found a way to decrease tensions. That means going to the heart of the conflict. If there is to be a way out, Germany believes that there should be more than economic improvements, which of course we wholly support. The sides must begin to talk to find a diplomatic and political solution to this conflict, which has been going on tragically long.

A Palestinian state alongside Israel may not seem near today, but it remains the necessary goal. I know that Germany as well as Europe would enthusiastically lend their support along this way.

Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.

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