OVER THE NEGEV, Israel (Nov. 17)
A helicopter flying the visiting German army chief of staff over the Negev on Tuesday made a slight detour.
Gen. Klaus Naumann asked to see the site where a small band of Jewish fighters in the first century C.E. held out against vastly superior Roman forces and then committed suicide rather than surrender.
Looking down at Masada from a Sikorsky aircraft, the 53-year-old German chief of staff told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that studying the historic event was important to make sure “it does not repeat itself.”
Naumann spoke before donning an Israeli army-issue overall, bearing the insignia of the chief of staff, in anticipation of a visit to the armored corps command.
Soon after landing, he climbed into an Israeli-made Merkava tank for a lesson in driving from a 22-year-old company commander.
The general exchanged compliments in English with Lt. Oren Protter and said, “I am never shy of learning from anyone.” Naumann is a 1983 graduate of the Royal College of Defense Studies in London.
The brief flight over Masada was a demarcation point from past to future in the visit of the strongly pro-Israel German chief of staff. Earlier, he took part in a memorial ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
The German military leader spent much of Tuesday expanding his acquaintance with the Israel Defense Force. It was a meeting between the representative of the strongest army in Europe and soldiers of the strongest army in the Middle East.
But Naumann emphasized a fundamental difference between them.
“We enjoy a tremendous advantage in Germany,” Naumann told luncheon guests hosted by the commander of the ground forces, Lt. Gen. Emanuel Sakal.
“We now live in an environment in which we have no enemies. I wish Israel could enjoy the same benefit,” he said.
Naumann has used every opportunity in meetings here to advance his view that Germany has not been overtaken by a new wave of racism and anti-Semitism.
He said the small number of people guilty of violence against asylum-seekers and vandalism at Jewish memorial sites do not represent the vast majority of Germans.
“Four hundred idiots are insignificant in a nation of 80 million,” he said. He wants to bring together young people from both countries “so that you can learn that the new Germans are different.”
Naumann’s four-day tour reciprocates a visit made to Germany in April by the Israeli chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak.