Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister spoke Monday afternoon at the Princeton University Program in Judaic Studies. Fischer is currently the Woodrow Wilson School Frederick H. Schultz Class of 1951 Professor of International Economic Policy. He also serves as a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School Liechenstein Institute on Self-Determination and fellow at Princeton’s European Union Program. In addition, Fischer has an appointment with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.
Fischer was appointed Foreign Minister of Germany in 1998, during the administration of Chancellor Gerhard Schroder. He won international attention in 1998 when he urged that Germany should send troops to Kosovo during the NATO-led intervention. Following 9/11, Fischer advised Chancellor Schroder to send German troops to Afghanistan. He opposed, however, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As Foreign Minister, Fischer’s first trip abroad was to Israel.
“The European past of pogroms and the Holocaust has made Israel a sensitive issue for Germany,” Fischer said during his lecture entitled Europe and Israel. “Anti-Semitism being a European invention, makes fighting it a major responsibility for the Europeans,” he added. “Because the Shoah was committed by Germany and Germans it is also a bipartisan issue for us,” said Fischer. “We have a moral responsibility for the security of the citizens of Israel.”
“The proximity of the Middle East to Europe makes the region of special interest and importance to the Europeans,” Fischer said. “The region is at a crossroads,” he added. “The changed strategic realities have created new strategic patterns in the Middle East, and Europe has a vital interest in peace and security in the region.”
Fischer explained that the U.S. intervention in Iraq was a revolutionary move: an attempt to transform the region into democracy. This transformation failed however due to the miscalculation of American power. Fischer maintained that, “Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has been the hegemon in the Middle East.” A U.S. departure from Iraq would lead to competition in the region over hegemony, and Iran appears to be a clear winner in the defeat of the U.S. transformation strategy.
According to Fischer, Iran today is at the center of the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean and the Hindus Valley. And, he believes that a unified Western strategy that both isolates Iran on one hand while offering direct talks with Tehran on the other, is the best option. He believes that the Iranian leadership is not monolithic and that negotiations will strengthen the more moderate factions. “Iran, “ Fischer said, “is not self-sufficient. It imports gas from Turkey and technology from the West and has a serious drug problem.“ He warned however that a U.S. attack on Iran would create a “terrible crisis that would damage U.S.-European relations.”
Fischer considered the recent war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel as “the first Iranian-Israeli war.” The prospect of a future missile war has changed Israel’s security arrangements. The new reality, Fischer believes, “will limit Israel’s strategic options.” Fischer credited the late Prime Minister Rabin with understanding the Iranian threat and thus negotiating with Arafat back in 1993. “Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has not succeeded,” and he added, “Israel’s strategic situation worsened since Rabin.” The claim by Israel that “it has no partner for peace” has weakened it.
Suggesting that the emerging prospect of a Palestinian unity government is good news, Fischer stressed however that unless the Palestinians can overcome Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, it would not have a positive effect. “Political will,” he added, “together with international guarantees to Palestinian nation building are necessary.” Fischer thought that one of the critical mistakes made in the Oslo Accords was in not considering “nation building,” an area Europe has had considerable success with.
Iran’s attempted destabilization of the pro-Western Arab regimes is an opportunity for Israel to gain acceptance from the Arab states according to Fischer. He cited recent meetings between Saudi and Israeli top officials. And, since Iran does not have “natural friends or allies,” it would be possible to separate Syria from Iran. Hezbollah without Damascus’ support will be finished, Fischer concluded.
Fischer is certain that Israel will not be alone in its opposition to Iran. Moderate Arab states view Iran’s “hegemonic ambitions as a greater threat to their regimes than Israel.” He believes that this presents an opportunity for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and that it would insure wider containment of Iran. Fischer admitted however, that in Israel the linkage between Iraq and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as the suggested by the Baker-Hamilton Report was totally rejected. Still, Fischer advocated negotiations with Syria.
In conclusion, Fischer unqualifiedly stated that “It is in Israel’s interest to seek internationally recognized borders,” and that “an independent Lebanon as its neighbor,” are “both vital for Israel’s security”.
Following the lecture, this writer had a brief discussion with the former Foreign minister.
Joseph Puder: In your presentation you have did not touch upon the Islamic threat to Europe, how do you see this threat?
Joschka Fischer: (Waving his hand in a dismissive gesture) The Muslim vote in Europe is insignificant and European leaders are not formulating their policies with the Muslim community in Europe on their mind.
JP: And what about the prospect of Sharia laws in Europe?
JF: It is more likely in the U.S. than in Europe. Your system is much more liberal in this respect. You have the separation of Church and State that Europe does not have. Since the Reformation, European leaders chose the religion of their respective states. I do not envision such a thing as Sharia laws in Europe.
JP: How about your multi-culturalism and political-correctness, which accommodates radical Muslims in Europe?
JF: I believe that you have it worse in the U.S.
Fischer, it appears, does not think radical Islam seriously threatens Europe. He maintains the position that the Muslim minorities in Europe understand that they are living in pluralistic society and must accommodate to its culture.
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