The intensifying international scramble for oil has focused new attention, and some strain, on one of the most sensitive and emotion-laden relationship between two countries - West Germany and Israel.
At issue is whether the traditionally benign foreign policy of West Germany - a highly industrialized country totally dependent on imported oil-toward Israel is changing. Is, as a conservative newspaper here suggested last week, "a cool policy of realism about to prevail in Bonn at the expense of the idea of atonement."
The situation has attracted growing attention because of several recent developments:
In Paris earlier this month, the nine-nation European Common Market delivered the most critical statement it has ever issued attacking Israel's policy of establishing new settlements in occupied territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River.
Soon afterward, Bonn Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher embarked on an intensive diplomatic mission to most of the Middle East-Persian Gulf oil-producing countries.
In the midst of the Genscher trip, a purported interview with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was published by Israel's Jerusalem Post. In it, the Chancellor was quoted as being sharply critical of Israeli Prime Minister Begin's settlement policy and warning that a new war was possible and that Israel was losing its friends. Schmidt was said to have commented that while West Germany should have a bad conscience about the holocaust, that should not be the basis of Bonn's support for Israel.
The chancellor's office has denied that he made the remarks attributed to him in the Jerusalem Post story.
Schmidt has twice postponed a trip to Israel, moves seen here as reflecting a view that Israel's settlement policy is a hindrance to a wider Middle East peace.
For the moment, however, the focus of interest is on Genscher's trip, which is widely viewed as having two goals. One is a diplomatic mission to sound out Arab opinion on widening the peace prospects. The other is to insure West German oil supplies. A possible third aim, sources here say, is to discuss with Libya and Iraq, two countries thought to be harboring fugitive West German terrorists, whether they would refrain from offering such haven.
Several respected newspaper here have suggested that the Genscher mission bodes ill for Israel and that it is also the start of Bonn's efforts to secure its own oil supplies in the absence of international guarantees.
"Despite all contraditions and vagueness, this much seems clear," said an independent Stuttgart newspaper this week. "West Germany, too, prepares for the day when the industrial countries, disregarding friends and allies, will try to obtain oil exclusively for their own tanks."
Some experienced Israeli diplomats here and elsewhere in Europe, however, feel that claims of a Bonn foreign policy swing are exaggerated. There is no doubt among these officials that Begin's settlement policy is opposed as dangerous, not only by Bonn but by France, the rest of the Common Market, and the United States. There is also little doubt that West Germany is trying to safeguard its relations with its main Arab oil suppliers.
Yet these diplomats say they believe the West German Foreign Ministry when it says it supports the basic Egyptian-Israeli peace accord and that Genscher's mission is meant to assuage Arab opposition to the treaty and, eventually widen the accord.
"The Germans are interested in the same measure of good relations with Arabs and with Israel," one Israeli diplomat said. "The germans see the peace treaty as a good beginning and something that is already a fact. Now the thing is to try to do everything to make it succeed.
"What we are seeing is a mixture of honorable motives and self-interest. The Germans feel they have to work for peace in the Middle East but are hoping that it will also bring dividends in the energy sector," he said.
"The whole economic well-being of Germany depends on oil and without economic well-being the stability of Germany could be threatened," another Israeli added.
"Schmidt doesn't understand Begin," said another Israeli dipolmat," just the way Schmidt doesn't understand Carter. Maybe its the religious element. Begin and Carter are both deep believers, each in his own way. Schmidt is a thoroughly rational man, through and through. So maybe you can understand why fear moves Schmidt so much."
In the Jerusalem Post report, Schmidt was also quoted as expressing regret that Israel was so totally dependent on the United States because Washington, since the Johnson adminstration, has been unpredictable.
"Who should we be dependent on?" an Israeli asks. "On a European Common Market led by France that doesn't give a hoot fof Israel? On Brezhnev?"
The chancellor's office here has gone to great lengths to deny that Schmidt said the things reported by the Israeli paper or that his conversation with their correspondent could even had been interperted along such lines.
Nevertheless, Schmidt ropeatedly has been involved in similar situations where he speaks in total candor to foreign correspondents or private groups and then denies everything when it is published.
Among Israeli diplomats and correspondents here, and others familiar with the chancellor's private views, there is little doubt that the interview expressed his feelings.