German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)
Days after Berlin announced plans to sell tanks to Saudi Arabia, German Defense
Minister Thomas de Maiziere arrived for his first visit to Israel on Tuesday,
during which he will meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak for talks expected to focus on the ongoing upheaval in the
Middle East and the Iranian nuclear threat.
The sale of 200 Leopard tanks
has stirred controversy in Germany with opposition groups citing Saudi military
involvement in cracking down on protests in Bahrain earlier this year as grounds
for cancelling the deal.
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De Maiziere defended the deal – which Israel
gave a green light for, according to the German press – telling a Hamburg paper
on Sunday that “international security interests take precedence” to human
De Maiziere was met by an honor guard at the Kirya
Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv and then sat down for a meeting followed by
dinner with Barak. On Wednesday, he will receive a helicopter tour of Israel and
visit the Palmachim Air Force Base and on Thursday, he will meet with Netanyahu
before returning to Berlin.
Germany is viewed as a critical player in the
European Union and Israel has been lobbying Berlin to cut back on business ties
with Iran. In 2010, German exports to Iran rose by 5 percent to 3.164 billion
Israel and Germany have strong defense ties and a German firm is
currently building two new submarines for the Israel Navy, slated to begin
arriving in 2013, increasing the number of submarines in the fleet to
In June, Israel and Germany finalized the terms of the sale of a
sixth submarine to Israel, viewed as critical in light of Iran’s continued
nuclear program. According to foreign reports, Israel’s submarines have a
second-strike capability and carry cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads.