Israeli PM Netanyahu’s recent strike on an Iranian site in Syria escalated Iran-Israel tensions, overshadowing Gaza’s plight until the German Foreign Minister refocused attention, despite Netanyahu’s dismissive response.

B y some accounts, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done rather well in striking an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria on April 1. It was a game-changer. In being tantamount to attacking Iranian soil, he took a war long fought through proxies to a new dangerous level.

In so doing, the new, elevated Iran-Israel tensions took the focus away from the suffering of the people of Gaza.

Think about it. Since April 1, we’ve been hearing so much less about the displacement and desperation in the besieged Palestinian territory. The world has been consumed with worry over what happens next as Iran and Israel “calibrate” their response to each other’s hostilities with a Goldilocks’ soupcon of aggression — not too little, not too much… just the right amount.

Basically, Gazans have been pretty much absent from much of the news agenda. We owe it to German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that it’s crept back up, albeit beneath the radar.

Even though Ms Baerbock’s seventh trip to Israel since the October 7 Hamas massacre was meant to underscore Germany’s solidarity with Israel, she did at least raise the issue of Gaza’s suffering. Good on her, except that Mr Netanyahu managed to throw the issue into the long grass of history and use the “N” word to his German visitor. “N” for Nazi, I mean.

According to reports on Israel’s Channel 13 (and Germany’s Bild), when Ms Baerbock brought up the plight of the Palestinians, Mr Netanyahu showed her photos of food markets in Gaza and said it was a nonsense to suggest anyone was starving. To which Ms Baerbock grimly responded that alternative photos of malnourished children were available and Mr Netanyahu should cease to circulate his stash as “they do not describe the real situation in Gaza”.

This got Mr Netanyahu going and he is reported to have rasped as follows: “It’s reality. It’s not like the Nazis staged it, we’re not like the Nazis who created fake images of virtual reality”.

That this put-down got leaked at all is being attributed to Mr Netanyahu’s office. According to Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico’s chief Europe correspondent based in Berlin, the Germans aren’t, however, really denying the accounts: “Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, who previously served as Angela Merkel’s spokesman, put his flak hat back on and took to X. ‘Key points in this account of the hour long meeting between Foreign Minister Baerbock and Prime Minister Netanyahu are wrong and misleading’, he wrote in response to several reports of the fracas, without saying what was incorrect. In our experience that means only one thing: the reports were on the money.”

Mr Karnitschnig adds that the episode helps everyone. The Nazi comparison will go down well with Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing base, and Ms Baerbock’s questions to him will go down well with her Green Party base.

True. The fallout of Israel’s ratcheting up of tensions with Iran helps everyone… but the Palestinians.



▪ This piece was first published in Medium and re-published in PUBLIC SQUARE UK on 21 April 2024 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Unsplash/Mohammed Ibrahim. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)
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