Missione Sophia (LaPresse)

German Navy Boosts Mediterranean Presence with Increased Commitment to Operation Irini

The German warship FGS Hamburg is en route to join the EU-led Mission Irini. As the German Navy announced, the warship left the port of Wilhelmshaven on August 4 to join the task force. The deployed forces of Operation Irini, form a coalition with primary mission to monitor any illicit movements related to the Libyan civil war and implement the UN arms embargo in the North African country.

Putting the latest developments in a wider context, one must admit that Berlin is clearly trying to showcase that the German role is critical not only in the field of diplomacy but also in the developments on the ground — or in this case in the developments at sea.

FGS Hamburg and the Operational Upgrade of the Mission

FGS Hamburg is a Type 124 Class Guided Missile Frigate (FFG). With a displacement of 5800 tons, FGS Hamburg comes as a considerable addition to the HS Spetsai frigate of the Hellenic Navy and the ITS San Giorgio of the Italian Navy, which are already deployed in the area. The armament of the ship consists of a Mark 41 Vertical Launching System with RIM-66 Standard medium-range surface-to-air Missiles and RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles. Four secondary missile launching systems (Mark 141 and Mark 49) can be also found in the frigate, while OTO Melara 76 mm and Rheinmetall MLG 27 mm machine guns are included in the main weapon systems of the ship. Thales and Atlas Electronic L-long rage and surface radar systems are also used by the FGS Hamburg and will provide an additional benefit to the monitoring power and capabilities of the deployed assets. Finally, 2 Naval Helicopters Westland Sea Lynx Mk.88 will be stationed on the ship for the duration of the deployment.

Apparently the addition of FGS Hamburg to the mission contributes drastically to the operational capabilities of the task force but at the same time Berlin is making a political statement, over-stressing its re-emerging role in the new status quo of the troubled Mediterranean region.

Berlin Looks into Boosting its Role in the Mediterranean

FGS Hamburg will be part of the Operation Irini for five months, with 250 navy personnel being reportedly onboard. Prior to the deployment of FGS Hamburg, Germany has been contributing to the mission with only one P-3C Orion aircraft. The decision for the deployment of the German Navy frigate comes at a moment when Berlin is trying to boost its role in the Mediterranean in several fronts.

Since early 2020, Germany has been playing a pivotal role in the developments of the Libyan conflict During the Berlin Conference, held on January 19, 2020, Chancellor Angela Merkel has hosted a meeting where all the major regional players participated. The ultimate objective of the conference has been to assist the opposing sides coming to an agreement and setting the context for the steps forward, in order peace to be established and the state-building process to start promptly. The conference has addressed the key regional and international factors that have been fueling the crisis, but at the same it highlighted the significance of the German element in international politics.

Berlin as a Gatekeeper of Regional Balance

Following the recent escalation between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea in late July, Berlin has once again emerged as a mediator and a gatekeeper of the regional balance. Germany not only intervened in the aftermath of the provocative Turkish NAVTEX but — as the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu divulged — Berlin has also organized an undisclosed trilateral meeting at some point before mid-July, among Greece, Turkey and Germany.

Last week, Germany took further steps to stress its role in the Libyan de-escalation process. Following the resignation of the UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame, discussions have been taking place for the successor of the Lebanese academic and the very structure of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The US has reportedly tried to promote a specific candidate to overtake Salame’s role, but Germany responded via Dr. Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s Permanent Representative in the UN. Dr. Heusgen stressed that the UN Secretary-General should nominate the candidate without any US interference.

German Controversies Caused by Berlin’s Previous Actions

The tension in the Libyan front and in the Eastern Mediterranean also coincide with a critical moment in German politics. Since July 1 and until the end of the year, Germany holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Merkel’s close ally, Ursula von der Leyen is currently serving as the President of the European Commission, while Merkel herself is gradually moving to the end of her term without any intention to run for another one in 2021, as per her own statements. In this particular timing, both German institutions and Merkel would like to emphasize the stabilizing role of their country in a regional and international context.

On the other hand, besides the mediation efforts and military support that Berlin has been pursuing in order to secure stability in MENA and the Levant, controversy has been raised with regards to the arms deals that Germany has approved since the start of the year. According to data available from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), Berlin has proceeded forward on arm deals with some of the major foreign actors involved in the Libyan crisis, of a total value of approximately €331 million, specifically €308.2 million with Egypt, €15.1 million with Turkey and €7.7 million with the UAE, respectively. Such a move amid the escalation in the Libyan civil war and knowing the role that the aforementioned countries in the conflict hold has prompted several prominent accusations of misconduct and hypocrisy against Germany.