German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday made his first visit to Israel since taking office, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and international efforts to forge a new Iran nuclear deal.
Scholz toured Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and laid a wreath. He was later due to meet Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and visit the Knesset, or parliament.
The two heads of government - both relatively new to office following years under the veteran leaders Angela Merkel in Germany and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel - met as the rapidly moving world events test their leadership.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, Scholz’s coalition government has reversed a ban on sending weapons into conflict zones and halted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany.
Scholz has also pledged 100 billion euros ($113 billion) this year to modernize Germany’s army and committed to spending more than two percent of Germany’s gross domestic product on defense annually, surpassing even NATO’s target.
Israel has taken a more conservative approach to the Ukraine crisis, citing its warm ties with both Kyiv and Moscow.
Bennett has resisted Ukraine’s request for weapons, according to Israeli media, and instead pledged 100 tons of non-military assistance, including water purification kits and blankets.
In addition, Israel has set up a hotline for Jewish Ukrainians seeking to immigrate amid the hostilities.
Scholz’s visit also comes as a new deal is said to be emerging to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
The original 2015 agreement unraveled when former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it, with Israeli encouragement.
Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia are now negotiating in Vienna to salvage that agreement, with the United States taking part indirectly.
Israel’s Bennett has said he is “deeply troubled” by the outlines of that deal.