WEST BERLIN, AUG. 9 -- While the rest of the Western alliance -- and much of the world -- focuses on the time bomb in the Persian Gulf, German sights remain fixed on their own rush to reunify.

West Germany has joined its allies in condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and in freezing Kuwaiti assets. And today, Bonn's defense minister, Gerhard Stoltenberg, reversed himself and agreed to consider sending German warships to the Mediterranean Sea to replace U.S. ships redeployed to the gulf.

But because of Germany's historical legacy, legal limits and domestic politics, West Germany has thus far lagged behind its allies in its commitment to place pressure on Iraq.

Bonn has said it will not participate in any multinational force in Saudi Arabia. At a press conference Tuesday, Chancellor Helmut Kohl refused to take any questions about Iraq. And press coverage of the crisis has centered on the possibility that the gulf conflict could retard progress toward German unification.

"Germany's silence is revealing," said Jochen Thies, editor of Europa Archiv, a foreign affairs journal in Bonn. "It is the classic German problem. Because of our history, there is a hesitation to send German troops where Rommel has been."

Erwin Rommel was a German field marshal whose most notable post was that of commander of armored forces in North Africa during World War II.

The gulf presents an especially difficult problem to West Germany because the Nazis had planned to march across Afghanistan and into the gulf region after defeating the Soviet Union during the war. Any German move into the area even 45 years after the end of World War II might raise bad memories.

In addition, in the early 1980s, when then-chancellor Helmut Schmidt proposed sending arms to Saudi Arabia, Israel objected. Because of the Germans' sensitivity about offending the Jewish state, Bonn backed away from the plan.

Stoltenberg said today West German troops definitely will not be sent to the gulf region. He said the West German constitution prohibits Bonn from participating in any multinational force that might be sent to Saudi Arabia.

The constitution does bar the German armed forces from being deployed outside NATO's defense area. But earlier this year, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher found a way around that provision and West Germany sent officers of its border guard to Namibia to take part in the United Nations peacekeeping force there.

The gulf crisis has not only failed to generate a strong response from the government, but has also made a strikingly small impact on the populace, even though gasoline prices are rising quickly and eight West Germans captured by Iraqi troops are still being kept in a Baghdad hotel.

The lead news items on many radio and television broadcasts in both East and West Germany this week have been not the Persian Gulf but the latest political wrinkle in the push to reunite the Germanys.

When Germans do focus on the situation in Iraq, it is largely to worry about the impact the crisis there will have on progress toward reunification.

"There is considerable concern that the rise in oil prices and the possible worldwide inflation sparked by the gulf crisis could retard unification," said a Western diplomat in East Berlin.