Germany Israel

Diplomacy in a Time of Crisis: Germany’s Chancellor Visits Israel and Egypt

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent visits to Israel and Egypt underscore Germany’s commitment to diplomacy and solidarity, especially in the midst of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The visit was prompted by the conflict that erupted after Hamas launched major attacks against Israel on October 7. An estimated 1,200 Israelis were killed, mostly civilians and hundreds of hostages were taken, including several individuals with German citizenship. In response, Israel launched a counterstrike on Gaza, which began on October 17, 2023. According to reports by the Gaza Health Ministry, the death toll in Gaza following the Israeli military operation is over 11,000 as of November 15. A large number of civilians died in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the war, the majority of whom are reported to be women and children. These incidents sent shockwaves through the world, including German political circles.

As Western nations try to prevent the Middle East conflict from spreading, Scholz’s visit to Egypt was part of a broader diplomatic effort. He aimed to discuss practical questions, particularly in terms of the security situation, and how to prevent an escalation of the conflict in further countries. These visits demonstrate Germany’s dedication to supporting both Israel and Egypt, and maintaining strong diplomatic ties in the face of adversity. The trip also carries a profound message about Germany’s foreign policy priorities in the region and its role in addressing the issues in Israel and Gaza.[i]

Full support for Israel, humanitarian aid only for Gaza, controversy at home

Germany views Israel's security and existence as integral to its own present-day identity.

The first aspect of the Chancellor’s visit is symbolic. Germany, as a strong advocate of the right to self-defence and a staunch supporter of Israel, wanted to demonstrate solidarity with its ally, particularly during a period of intense international scrutiny and criticism.[ii] Scholz emphasized that the security of Israel and its citizens is a matter of German responsibility to atone for the Jewish Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime in the 1940s.[iii] Germany’s unique historical responsibility towards Israel is underscored by the concept of “Staatsräson” (reason of state), a term used by former Chancellor Angela Merkel and reiterated by her successor, Olaf Scholz. According to this concept, Germany views Israel’s security and existence as integral to its own present-day identity.[iv] Simultaneously, since the mid-1990s, Germany’s policy toward Israel has also been influenced by its commitment to a two-state solution in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Germany has pledged to provide Israel with equipment, such as drones and ammunition, that will help Israel in its defence against Hamas so long as the conflict does not escalate further.[v] The German government has approved 10 times more military gear exports to Israel, totalling €303 million ($324 million) in export approvals as of November 2 of this year. This is a significant increase compared to the €32 million authorized a year ago. The surge is attributed to Germany prioritizing requests from Israel following the Hamas attack. About €19 million of the approved goods fall under the category of “war weapons”, with the majority—around €284 million—categorized as “other military goods,” including items like armoured vehicles and radar technology. The German government has expedited the processing of export applications for military equipment to Israel in the aftermath of the Hamas attack.[vi] During the state visit, both Scholz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the actions of Hamas to Nazi atrocities. Scholz stated that Iran bears responsibility for helping Hamas grow to the point that it could launch its incursion into Israel, although he pointed out that there was no solid evidence of Iran providing concrete and operational support for the attack[vii]. In a special address to the German parliament on October 12, Scholz criticized “jubilant statements” about the atrocities made by the top circles of the Iranian regime and some other government officials in the region, calling them “abhorrent.”[viii]

Scholz announced that Germany will issue a formal ban on the support of Hamas, which is already listed by the European Union as a terror group. This ban prohibits Germans from glorifying the crimes of Hamas, using the group’s symbols, condoning murder or calling for criminal acts, or burning Israeli flags.[ix] Germany has banned and criminalized any kind of demonstrations against Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip in Germany. German authorities, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have described and characterized pro-Palestinian protests and marches in Germany as potentially using anti-Semitic slogans and glorifying violence. The government has taken a hard-line stance against such protests, with the German state outright banning most pro-Palestinian demonstrations. The reasons for these bans are based on the belief that there is an “imminent danger” that the assemblies will result in incitement and violence. German authorities have also cited a spike in anti-Semitic incidents, such as the firebombing of a Berlin synagogue, as a justification for the bans. In addition to this, the German government has moved to outlaw the pro-Palestinian group Samidoun, accusing it of openly supporting terror against Israelis.

The problem with German authorities being sensitive and strict about pro-Palestinian protests in various German cities is that it can be seen as a curtailment of free speech and a crackdown on expressing solidarity with ordinary Palestinians. Critics argue that on top of this, the blanket ban on demonstrations is doing little to effectively curb anti-Semitism and is instead fostering a climate of division. Additionally, the bans have been seen as a violation of the right to protest and voice one’s opinion, which is a fundamental aspect of Germany’s democratic society.[x]

The Hamas attacks led Germany (...) to suspend development aid for the Palestinian Territories. Scholz, however, said he remains committed to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the (...) Gaza Strip.

The Hamas attacks led Germany, who has been one of the largest contributors to the Palestinian Authority and an increasingly vocal advocate for European Union engagement in the Middle East, to suspend development aid for the Palestinian Territories. Scholz, however, said he remains committed to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the affected civilian population in the Gaza Strip,[xi] where there has been a severe lack of basic necessities such as drinking water, electricity, and vital supplies.[xii] On October 9, Israeli forces ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza in response to Hamas’s assault on Israel. The siege follows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration of war on October 7 and has blocked all electricity, food, water, and fuel deliveries into the Gaza Strip, save a recently allowed fuel delivery, strictly meant to be used for the transportation of aid only.[xiii]

This year the German Foreign Ministry has distributed €72 million of humanitarian aid in the Palestinian territories through international organizations and the United Nations, primarily for food provisions and healthcare. Germany is represented in the Palestinian Territories by numerous cultural cooperation agencies, and the German Academic Exchange Service supports the exchange of students and researchers at Palestinian universities.[xiv]

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also visited Tel Aviv, marking her second trip to Israel since October 7. Her visit was part of a broader regional tour, which also included stops in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. Baerbock expressed the need to prevent a wider conflict, emphasizing that Hezbollah in Lebanon should refrain from getting involved. She also warned Iran, Shiite militias in Iraq, and Houthi rebels in Yemen against escalating violence. In Jordan, Baerbock announced a significant aid package (€50-52.9 million) for civilians in the Gaza Strip and promised medical assistance from Germany.[xv]

On November 11, 2023, Foreign Minister Baerbock advocated for humanitarian ceasefires during her crisis talks in Saudi Arabia regarding the Gaza conflict. She emphasized the need for pauses to facilitate the supply of humanitarian aid. Chancellor Scholz also called for ceasefires, evacuations and the import of aid. Baerbock urged Arab Gulf states to collaborate with the West for a peace agreement in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. She emphasized the common interest in this outcome for all, criticized Hamas’s actions, and highlighted the importance of not letting the war undermine the chances of Israel’s further normalization with its Arab neighbours.[xvi]

Germany has further affirmed its support for Israel’s actions in the conflict in Gaza, stating that it has “no doubt that Israel is complying with humanitarian law.” The deputy government spokesman, Wolfgang Buechner, emphasized that Germany trusts Israel as a democratic and constitutional state to adhere to international law in its self-defense efforts against attacks against it. This statement comes as the UN and the EU express mounting criticism of Israel’s actions. Chancellor Scholz reiterated his unconditional support for Israel, highlighting Israel’s democratic and humanitarian principles, and expressing confidence that the Israeli army would respect international law. This stance by Germany contrasts with recent comments from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and certain EU officials, who have suggested that a total blockade of the Gaza Strip and attacks on civilian infrastructure may violate international humanitarian law.[xvii]

The Egyptian Prescription: Putting aside differences to focus on de-escalation

Germany is one of Egypt’s largest trading partners and a significant source of foreign investment. The two countries have cooperated on a range of issues, including economic development, security, and migration. However, the relationship has also been marked by tensions over human rights and political freedoms in Egypt. In recent years, Germany has criticized Egypt’s human rights record and its treatment of civil society actors and members of the political opposition. Despite these tensions, the two countries have maintained diplomatic relations and have continued to work together on issues of mutual interest.[xviii]

Scholz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi voiced their opposition to the idea of expelling Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

Scholz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi voiced their opposition to the idea of expelling Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Egypt, as this could potentially lead to the Sinai Peninsula becoming a launching ground for attacks against Israel. Committed to a two-state solution to the broader Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Sisi warned that the displacement of people from the Gaza Strip would set a precedent for the displacement of Palestinians from the West Bank into Jordan, should a conflict also affect the latter territory in the future. Sisi blamed Israel’s airstrikes on and near the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt for the failure to get aid to the territory’s 2.4 million people. He insisted that the border crossing was open from the Egyptian side but was rendered inoperable on the Palestinian side on multiple occasions.
[xix] Since October 7, Israel has tightened its siege on Gaza City and conducted targeted airstrikes on Hamas cells in the middle and the south of the Gaza Strip. These strikes have damaged parts of the Rafah crossing on the Gazan side. On October 21, following talks with Israel, 20 trucks carrying vital aid such as medicine, medical supplies and food crossed the Egyptian border at the Rafah crossing en route to Gaza. Foreign and dual nationals also hoped to be allowed to leave Gaza through the same crossing, which Egypt started to facilitate on November 1.[xx] Evacuations were halted as the crossing closed and subsequently reopened three times since then.[xxi]

Scholz also travelled to Israel and Egypt to negotiate the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, including several Germans. The fate of German nationals kidnapped by Hamas during the attack on October 7 was among the primary topics of discussion. Egypt has played a key role in mediating previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas. The negotiations for the release of hostages involve Egypt, the UN, the United States, and other nations, such as Turkey and Qatar.[xxii]

As of November 6, a total of 5 Israeli hostages have been freed or released from Hamas captivity. Two Israeli-American hostages were freed on October 22, through mediation by Qatari officials. Two more Israeli hostages were released by Hamas on October 24, for “compelling humanitarian reasons”, and one Israeli soldier was rescued by Israeli forces in a special operation.

Pertaining to negotiations for the release of these hostages, there have been reports of third-party mediators, such as Qatar, attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap, releasing Israeli women and children held hostage in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. However, the Israeli government has denied these reports, stating that there are no negotiations underway. Earlier, Hamas suggested that the hostages could be swapped for 6,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, but Israel is unlikely to agree to that while it is on a war footing.

An opportunity for Germany to play peacemaker

The significance of Scholz’s visits to Israel and Egypt lies in both the immediate crisis response and the broader foreign policy implications. In terms of immediate crisis response, it signifies Germany’s commitment to aiding its citizens in distress and expressing solidarity with its allies during challenging times. It sends a clear message that Germany stands with Israel in its right to defend itself and denounces terrorism as a means of achieving political goals.

Moreover, the visits are part of Germany’s broader strategy to play a constructive role in addressing the issues in Israel and Gaza. By engaging with various stakeholders in the region, including Israel, Egypt, and Qatar, Germany is actively seeking to broker peace and facilitate the release of hostages, including German citizens, from the Gaza Strip. These diplomatic efforts demonstrate Germany’s willingness to engage with parties involved and work towards de-escalation and a peaceful resolution.

Scholz’s visits to Israel and Egypt showcase Germany’s commitment to diplomacy and solidarity in times of crisis. Germany seeks to play a significant role in addressing the issues in Israel and the Gaza Strip by offering symbolic and practical support, and engaging in diplomatic efforts to facilitate peace and security in the region. These visits are meant to reflect Germany’s dedication to its allies as well as its pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict.

[i] “Als erster Regierungschef in Konfliktregion: Scholz trifft in Israel ein,“ Frankfurter Rundschau, October 17, 2023,
[ii] “Solidaritätsbesuch nach Hamas-Angriff: Kanzler Scholz in Israel eingetroffen,“ Tagesspiegel, October 17, 2023.
[iii] Steffen Hagemann and Roby Nathanson, “Germany and Israel Today. United by the Past, Divided by the Present?” Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2015,
[iv] ‘Germany’s unique relationship with Israel’, William Noah Glucroft, Deutsche Welle, October 15, 2023,
[v] Martin Greive, “Aus dem Kriegskanzler ist ein Polykrisen-Kanzler geworden,“ Handelsblatt, October 17, 2023,
[vi] ‘Significant increase in German military export approvals to Israel’, AlArabiya News, November 8, 2023,
[vii] ‘Germany’s Scholz: Iran bears responsibility for Hamas attacks’, Reuters, Thomas Escritt an
Miranda Murray, October 12, 2023,
[viii] “Scholz in Israel: Reise in den Krieg aus Staatsräson,“ Die Presse, October, 17, 2023,
[ix] “Israels Militär weist Verantwortung für Angriff zurück,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 18, 2023,
[x] “Gaza war: Germany’s crackdown on Palestine solidarity does not spare even anti-Zionist Jews,” The New Arab, October 18, 2023,
[xi] “Scholz und Biden besuchen Israel: Zwischen Solidarität und Diplomatie,“ TAZ, October 17, 2023,!5963749/
[xii] Georg Ismar, “Scholz in Ägypten: ‘Wir lassen die Menschen nicht allein,’ ” Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 18, 2023,
[xiii] Godfrey, P. (2023). ’U.N.: Israel allows fuel shipment into Gaza, but nothing for hospitals’, Yahoo Finance, 15 November 2023, retrieved from: U.N.: Israel allows fuel shipment into Gaza, but nothing for hospitals (
[xiv] “Germany mulls possible aid suspension to Palestinians after Hamas attack,” Reuters, October 8, 2023,
[xv] “Baerbock warns against wider Middle East conflict”, Deutsche Welle, October 20, 2023,,fundamental%20evil%2C%22%20said%20Baerbock.
[xvi] Annalena Baerbock wirbt in Saudi-Arabien für humanitäre Feuerpausen’, Zeit-Online, November 11, 2023, 
[xvii] ‘Germany says Israel is abiding by humanitarian law in Gaza war’, AA,
Oliver Towfigh Nia, 27 October 2023,
[xviii] Peter Dausend, “Olaf Scholz in Ägypten: Ein ungewohnt angefasster Kanzler,“ Die Zeit, October 18, 2023,
[xix] “Bundeskanzler reist durch Nahost: Scholz und al-Sisi beraten zu Gaza,“ TAZ, October 18, 2023,!5967429/
[xx] Africanews (2023). ‘Egypt opens border crossing to evacuate injured and foreign nationals from Gaza’, Africanews, 2 November 2023,
[xxi] Mohamed, Y. and Hassan, A.M. (2023). ’Gaza evacuees arrive in Egypt after Rafah crossing reopens’, Reuters, 13 November 2023,
[xxii] Constanze Kainz, “Drei Gründe für eine Reise des Kanzlers nach Israel,” Die Zeit, October 17, 2023,

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