The German government may participate in a retaliatory strike in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad uses poison gas against rebels in Idlib. Participation would be a surprising reversal of previous policy after Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to join the US, France and Britain in a strike earlier this year when gas was used in Douma.
Reports suggest Mr. Assad may be planning a chlorine gas attack on the rebel stronghold, its last. President Donald Trump has pledged a retaliatory strike if he does so and his administration has already sent out feelers to Germany and other allies about potential cooperation.
The German tabloid Bild first reported that Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen was looking at the possibility of sending Germany’s Tornado jet fighters to do reconnaissance or damage assessment, or even drop bombs on the Syrian targets. German fighters could attack military infrastructure such as barracks, air bases, munitions depots and factories.
The Social Democrats, the junior partner in Chancellor Merkel’s coalition government, categorically reject participation in a strike and legal questions remain about whether foreign engagement in Syria violates international law. A parliamentary research service Monday said any “retaliatory” role would go against human rights as well as the German constitution, according to DPA.
But members of the opposition parties Greens and Free Democrats supported an intervention.
Berlin government spokesman Steffen Seibert left the question open whether Germany would participate. “Of course, the German government is in contact with its partners and allies,” he said. There is considerable concern that “horrifying precedents from other Syrian battlefields could be repeated.” However, he stressed there has not yet been a situation demanding a decision.
According to Bild, the possible reversal in the defense ministry came after a query from Washington and a meeting in Berlin with the US military attaché.
The head of the foreign relations committee in parliament, Norbert Röttgen, told media group Funke Germany should consider possible military actions in cooperation with the US, France and Britain under certain conditions. “(When it comes to) preventing a new, horrible gas attack with massive consequences for civilians, Germany should not rule out this option,” said Mr. Röttgen, a member of Chancellor Merkel’s Conservatives. He argued it would conform to international law if such an intervention was necessary to forestall widespread war crimes by Syrian forces. He added that German participation must be clearly communicated to Russia.
If German participation required an immediate decision, the government would be able to act and seek parliamentary approval afterwards, Bild said.
Darrell Delamaide is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global based in Washington, DC. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.