Without commenting on Israel’s decision today to declare Guenter Grass persona not grata, Grass’s peculiar decision to publish what is really a short op-ed piece in the form of a poem, his decision to publish the piece at all given the embarrassment he suffered when his S.S. membership became known, the literary qualities of the poem or how its subtleties and elisions are best rendered in English, let me just say this: When Grass complains that the implications of Germany’s submarine deliveries to Israel have been too little discussed, he has a point.
The essential facts are the following. Since the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War, when Germany was suffering some discomfort because of industrial sales it had made to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Chancellor Kohl agreed to supply Israel with sophisticated Dolphin submarines. It provided the first two gratis and the next three on a highly subsidized basis; agreement to deliver a sixth was reached just last month, which appears to be what prompted Grass’s poem. Though the submarines are conventionally powered, they are considered highly sophisticated and are capable to carrying nuclear-armed cruise missiles. The consensus among defense experts appears to be that at least some of the submarines do actually carry Israeli-made Popeye cruise missiles equipped with nuclear warheads, thereby providing Israel with an invulnerable, sea-based, second-strike nuclear deterrent.
In light to those facts, it is reasonable to ask whether indeed a nuclear-armed Iran would represent an existential threat to Israel, as Israel’s current leadership has been arguing. It is perhaps not unreasonable to worry whether an unduly alarmist Israeli leadership might actually be tempted to launch a preventive first strike against Iran. And it certainly is not unreasonable to suggest, with Grass, that everybody would be better off if both Israel and Iran renounced nuclear weapons and did so under the supervision of an international authority.
This is what a leader of Germany’s Easter Marches–the regular demonstrations in favor of nuclear disarmament that have been a regular occurrence since the 1950s–told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today. “What Grass has brought up cannot just be swept under the carpet as anti-Semitism,” the official spokesperson for the Easter Marches told the SZ. It was the Sueddeutsche that published Grass’s poem in the first place, and so that is perhaps the best place to consult the original German. The Associated Press has made available an “unofficial translation” of the Grass poem, “What Must Be Said.”