German Refusal to Join American Anti-Iran Coalition Rankles U.S. Diplomats

U.S. Amb. to Germany: 'German participation would help deescalate the situation'

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August 8, 2019

Top U.S. diplomats are pressuring the German government to reverse its recent decision to decline participation in a U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf aimed at combating Iran's repeated attempts to hijack international oil tankers, according to multiple U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

With tensions escalating in the Straits of Hormuz, a key international shipping lane in the Persian Gulf, Germany and France have rebuffed requests from the Trump administration to join its military coalition, which has sought to retain order in the area amid increasingly hostile acts by the Iranian regime.

New warnings issued by the U.S. Maritime Administration this week allege that Iran is using increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks to jam ships' GPS networks and mimic communications from American military vessels, contributing to uncertainty in the region that threatens to ignite a full-blown war.

As of Thursday, Iran continued to hold hostage a British tanker ship it invaded in the area, prompting concerns for the welfare of the crew that has been held hostage now by the Iranians for nearly three weeks.

Senior U.S. diplomats told the Free Beacon that Germany's refusal to join the American coalition in the Persian Gulf is only serving to embolden Iran and demonstrate to the hardline regime there that the West is not unified in its objection to Tehran's increasingly brash behavior.

Germany and France remain two key U.S. allies who have sought to preserve the landmark nuclear deal with Iran and help the hardline regime skirt the Trump administration's toughest economic sanctions. Their refusal to join the U.S. coalition seeking order in the Persian Gulf is being viewed as unacceptable.

"German participation would help deescalate the situation," Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, told the Free Beacon. "The Iranians would see a united West."

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Berlin confirmed to the Free Beacon that Grenell and other top diplomats have pressured Germany to join the U.S. coalition to no avail.

"We've formally asked Germany to join France and the UK to help secure the Straits of Hormuz," a senior embassy official told the Free Beacon. "Members of the German government have been clear that freedom of navigation should be protected."

German officials in recent days have defended their decision to balk at joining the U.S. coalition, citing concerns that Berlin could be drawn into a larger military confrontation with Tehran if the situation escalates.

"At the moment the Britons would rather join an American mission. We won't do that," German foreign minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying on Monday, adding that Berlin would feel more comfortable participating in a European Union-sanctioned mission.

One U.S. official who works on Iran issues told the Free Beacon that Germany's refusal to join the coalition conflicts with its promises to aid international efforts to stop Tehran's terrorism.

"German officials keep telling us that they're on our side, but they have to side with Iran on nuclear related issues because of the nuclear deal," said a senior US official who works on Iran issues. "Iran is attacking tankers which has nothing to do with the deal. So what's Germany's excuse for not siding with us this time?"

Berlin's refusal to help the U.S.-led coalition comes against the backdrop of increasingly provocative Iranian military moves in the Persian Gulf.

"Associated with these threats is a potential for miscalculation or misidentification that could lead to aggressive actions," the administration said in an updated warning message to commercial vessels operating near Tehran. "Vessels operating in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman may also encounter GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning."

These efforts provide greater proof that Iran is attempting to bait ships out of international waters and into Iranian territory so that they can be seized and held hostage.

In at least two of the recent confrontations between Iran and commercial ships operating in the region, "vessels reported GPS interference," according to the new warning. "One vessel reportedly shut off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) before it was seized, complicating response efforts. Vessels have also reported spoofed bridge-to-bridge communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be U.S. or coalition warships."

Iranian military leaders also have lashed out at the Trump administration's efforts, claiming they could spark a wider regional war.

"The military coalition that the U.S. is after under the pretext of protecting security of shipping will increase insecurity in the region," Iranian defense minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami was quoted as telling his counterparts in Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait in phone calls this week.