- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

FRANKFURT, Germany — Memories of the Holocaust and the need to help resolve the raging conflict between Israel and Hezbollah are tearing at many Germans and even causing divisions in the ruling coalition over the prospect of sending German troops as part of a U.N. security force on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats are warming up to the idea after initially rejecting it, but the Social Democrats are putting up a stiff resistance.

Meanwhile, the country’s largest Jewish organization warned the government, which was formed in the fall as a “grand coalition” after neither party managed to secure a clear majority in parliament, not to put Germans in a position to possibly point a gun at an Israeli.

“Many survivors of the Holocaust are still living in Israel, and I don’t know how they would react if German troops had to act against an Israeli soldier who was defending his country,” Stephan Kramer, secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a radio interview.

Wolfgang Gerhardt, foreign policy spokesman of the opposition Free Democrats who would have been foreign minister in a coalition with the Christian Democrats, also linked Germany’s participation in an international force in the Middle East to the Holocaust.

“The dramatic historical precedent of the extermination of the Jews makes any role as an intermediary very difficult for German soldiers,” he said.

Foreign ministers from the United States, Europe and the Middle East agreed Wednesday in Rome to put together a force under a United Nations mandate, and the European Union offered a “substantial contribution.” But except for France, it was not clear who else would participate.

Mrs. Merkel’s first public comment on the issue last weekend was, “I don’t envisage this at the moment.” She also said that Israel has a right to defend itself but criticized the bombing of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon.

Another Christian Democrat, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, said a day later that Germany “could not refuse” a call from the international community to join a peacekeeping force.

Volker Kauder, secretary-general of the Christian Democratic Union, agreed with Mr. Jung. “If peace in the Middle East is at stake, nothing must be ruled out,” he said.

But another Christian Democrat, Elmar Brok, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament, said sending German troops is not realistic because “it would lead to complete overstretch by the German army.”

Germany currently has 7,700 troops in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Congo and the Horn of Africa.

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