German defense minister comes to Israel

Visit comes amid controversy surrounding Berlin's plan to sell 200 tanks to Saudi Arabia; de Maiziere to meet with Barak, Netanyahu.

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)
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 rights concerns.
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 euros.
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 five.
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.