BERLIN – German politicians and the major media have propelled Israel this week
into the charged political debate over whether the Merkel administration’s
decision to sell 200 tanks to Saudi Arabia conforms with Germany’s military
export policies toward the Middle East.
The Munich-based daily Süddeutche
headlined its Tuesday story “Israel approves tank sale,” suggesting that
Israel played the kingmaker role when German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Federal
Security Council green-lighted the roughly 1.7 billion euro tank deal to Saudi
Arabia in late June. Though the article also noted that the council sought
clearance from the United States, Israel has largely remained front and center
in German news reports and commentaries about the controversial armaments
Israel’s reported role in the council’s calculus to approve the
sale of the Leopard 2A7+, Germany’s most advanced battlefield tank, to Riyadh,
prompted Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to say during his recent visit to
Berlin, “I am unaware of an upcoming tank deal between Germany and Saudi
In an interview with the daily Die Welt
on Thursday, Ayalon was
further quoted as saying that “it is in the nature of such matters that one does
not speak about them publicly. But I can assure you that we fully and completely
trust Germany’s government.”
The Merkel administration has declined to
comment on the sale, invoking nondisclosure rules associated with the Federal
Security Council’s highly secretive meetings.
According to the thinking
of Israeli defense analysts, tanks do not poise a threat to Israel since Saudi
Arabia and Israel do not share a border. What ostensibly took place was that
Berlin updated Jerusalem, and Israel simply did not say anything.
defense experts note that the Jewish state has put its foot down when F-15s
fighter jets, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), and Joint Direct
Attack Munition (JDAMs) were to be sold to the Saudis.
systems spell a direct threat to Israel’s security, because F-15 jets can target
Israel, AWACS can monitor Israel Air Force operations, and JDAMs can be fired by
Saudi Arabian pilots from over the Red Sea and accurately hit targets in Israel
using GPS coordinates.
While the German media and politicians attach at
times a disproportionate and superfluous amount of attention to Israel, the
Saudi tank deal has generated outrage because of Riyadh’s role in suppressing
the prodemocracy movement in Bahrain. Leopard 2A7+ tanks are also suited for use
in military crowd control actions.
Yet Germany’s shipment of military
goods to Saudi Arabia over the years, as well as to Turkey, would seem to
suggest that its declared policy of not providing weapons to crisis-ridden
states in the volatile Middle East is a mixed bag. According to the Bonn
International Center for Conversion (of military facilities and equipment to
civilian uses), Germany has over the last 10 years sold 39 million euros worth
of weapons to the Saudis. Germany is the world’s third-largest exporter of
weapons. A startling 11% of Germany’s military exports were sent to Turkey
between 2006 and 2010. Last year, Turkish armed forces were reported to have
used chemical weapons against Kurdish insurgents.
The moral uproar over
the German-Saudi deal among Social Democrats, the Left Party, the Greens, and
even some deputies from parties in Merkel’s coalition, might also strike Israeli
observers as odd because of Germany’s role over the years in the sale of
dual-use military and civilian goods to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The
Bundestag remained largely silent about German-Iranian dual-use deals, including
those involving Siemens- Nokia surveillance technology that could be used
Within the context of the Saudi-German tank affair,
Philipp Missfelder, a foreign policy spokesman for Merkel’s Christian Democratic
Union (CDU), said on Thursday in the International Herald Tribune, “Every step
that we take in the region we take with the condition that it promotes the
security and the right to exist of Israel.”
How Missfelder’s political
assurance to Israel squares with his country’s robust trade relations with
Tehran (totaling more than 4 billion euros in 2010), including the ongoing sale
of sophisticated engineering equipment to Iran, remains a thorny issue for
CDU deputy Ruprecht Polenz’s defense of the
hosting of legislators from Iran last week in the Bundestag triggered an angry
reaction from MK Shaul Mofaz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee, who asserted that Germany is making a mockery of
international sanctions against Tehran.
As the WikiLeaks dispatches
showed, the Saudis view Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons and its
jingoistic foreign policy as the greatest threat to Middle East
It is unclear if Germany’s deal to arm Saudi Arabia with tanks
is based on the Iranian threat or on mercantile reasons. A combination of
economics and tackling Iran’s highly aggressive foreign policy is also a
But if the past is a guide to Germany’s present
behavior in the region, pure economic interests in the Federal Republic usually
take priority over human rights in the Muslim world, Israel’s security and
stability in the Middle East.
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