December 2, 2015 / 11:45 AM / 3 years ago

We must respond to IS threat, German defense minister urges lawmakers

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s defense minister appealed to lawmakers on Wednesday to back plans to join the military campaign against Islamic State (IS) insurgents in Syria, arguing that Europe must not be intimidated by the threat of attacks but respond resolutely.

German Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen is reflected in a glass barrier as she addresses a session of the Bundestag, the German lower house of parliament, in Berlin, Germany, December 2, 2015, to debate the country's role in the campaign against Islamic State. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

After a direct French plea for solidarity after IS shootings and bombings in Paris on Nov. 13 which killed 130 people, Germany has joined other countries in stepping up its role in the aerial campaign against IS militants in Syria.

Britain’s parliament was likely to vote on Wednesday night to approve air strikes.

Germany, already arming Iraqi Kurds fighting IS, is stopping short of joining the United States, France and Russia in air strikes but plans to send up to 1,200 soldiers, six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate and refueling aircraft.

“This mandate is not easy. It was a difficult decision and we will need patience. It will be a dangerous mission,” warned conservative Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen in presenting the motion to the Bundestag (lower house of parliament).

“But there is a clear answer (to the threat of attacks): we will not let ourselves be cowed,” she said, to loud applause.

A strong majority for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition” of her own conservatives and the Social Democrats means the plans are set to pass in a vote on Friday despite dissent from the pacifist Left party and opposition Greens.

In a country that has been reluctant since World War Two to deploy soldiers overseas, the move is significant.

A Forsa poll showed support strengthening among voters for a German role in fighting IS, up at 42 percent from 27 percent in February. Opposition to it is still firm at 54 percent, but down from 68 percent in February.

Von der Leyen stressed that the military action is embedded in a political process for a long-term peaceful solution in Syria, and argued, “You can make mistakes by taking action but you can also make serious mistakes by not taking action.”

A response is needed to stop the cruelty suffered by those slaughtered by Islamic State militants and thrown into mass graves, and by women and children sold at markets, she said.

The Left’s Dietmar Bartsch voiced concern that joining military action would raise the security threat for Germany.

“Terror will not be defeated by bombs, by war. Every bomb that falls on Raqqa ... motivates new IS fighters,” he said, referring to the de facto capital of the insurgents’ declared “caliphate” in a swathe of Syria they control.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier dismissed such arguments. “That’s a perfidious logic: seal yourself off, turn off the lights, pull down the blinds if terrorists come down the road. Hope they’ll go to the neighbors with brighter lights.”

But Germany’s mass-circulation daily Bild drove home the risks, printing a photo of a captured Jordanian pilot who was burned alive by IS earlier this year. “What happens if German soldiers fall into IS hands?” it said.

Bild deputy editor Nikolaus Blome wrote that there was no alternative to the military campaign against IS and a visible contribution from the Germany army, but it would be risky.

“Angela Merkel is taking a big risk and is accountable.”

(Story refiles to fix typo in name to read Blome in penultimate paragraph)

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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