News & Politics

Germany Refuses to Join U.S.-Backed Tanker Protection Effort in Strait of Hormuz

An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA)

According to a report from Reuters, Germany is refusing to help protect oil tankers in the Gulf flying flags from EU countries.

Iran and Great Britain are at odds over recent seizures of oil tankers by both countries and Donald Trump has accused Iran of attacking shipping in the Gulf. EU nations are hesitant to back Trump’s move because, well, they don’t have the stomach for a confrontation with Iran.

“Germany will not take part in the sea mission presented and planned by the United States,” said [Foreign Minister Heiko] Maas, adding the situation in the region was very serious and everything should be done to avoid an escalation. “There is no military solution.”

The security of shipping in the Gulf has shot up the international agenda since May, when Washington accused Iran of attacking ships there, which Iran denied. In July, Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in apparent retaliation for Britain’s seizure of an Iranian ship accused of violating sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

Washington’s European allies disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran last year and impose sanctions. They have been hesitant to back a U.S.-led mission that might increase tension in the region.

Why should the U.S. protect oil shipments bound for EU countries that won’t lift a finger in their own defense? Perhaps we should just tell Germany that since they don’t want to increase tensions in the region, their tankers can take their chances with the Iranian pirates.

But the EU may organize their own tanker protection mission:

“We are reviewing these requests, in close cooperation with Britain and France, and we are doing this against the backdrop of our political and diplomatic goals and in this overall assessment a corresponding decision will be taken,” she said.

A spokesman for Germany’s defense ministry denied there was a discrepancy in the statements from Demmer and Kramp-Karrenbauer, saying while Berlin was examining possible participation, no official decision had been taken.

Earlier, German Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was important to avoid a military escalation in the Gulf region and that a U.S.-led mission carried the risk of being dragged into an even bigger conflict.

“I’m very skeptical about that, and I think that’s a scepticism that many others share,” Scholz told ZDF television.

The whole point — that nations like Germany and France appear to have missed — is that the show of force is designed to prevent an armed conflict. Iran is not going to start a war with Western powers over one of their tankers being seized by Great Britain. But they may continue to act with impunity, attacking Gulf shipping, unless the cost of the attacks is made too expensive.

And only the U.S. can do that.

Iran may very well see Germany and the EU’s refusal to join the U.S. in protecting tankers as an open invitation to commit more acts of aggression. They have a long history of committing outrages like that, so why should they change now?