Germany’s Parliament will debate the government’s controversial plan to sell sale of 200 Leopard II battle tanks to Saudi Arabia.
The proposed transaction has outrage opposition leaders who claim such a sale violates Berlin’s policy against selling arms to repressive regimes. Moreover, they fear the weapons will be used to quell the uprising in neighboring Bahrain.
The deal was a secret until it was leaked on Sunday by Der Spiegel magazine and subsequently confirmed by Saudi security officials.
According to BBC, Germany is the world’s third biggest arms exporter, just behind the U.S. and Russia, with 90,000 Germans fully employed by the armament industry. Arms exports have doubled in just the past decade.
While Germany's defense minister Thomas de Maizière, has declined to comment on what he regards as a classified topic, German opposition leaders are demanding answers from the ruling coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Gernot Erler, the Social Democrat’s parliamentary chief said the proposed sale reflected a frightening lack of judgment.”
He told the Welt newspaper that selling tanks to Saudi Arabia showed how Merkel and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle only paid lip service to supporting democratic movements in the Arab world,
Similarly, Juergen Trittin, parliamentary head of the Green Party: Such decisions cannot be taken at a time when people are fighting for democracy in the Arab world. At some point the government is going to have to give up its veil of secrecy and come clean. Just try to keep it secret when you start delivering multi-ton tanks to Saudi Arabia.
Trittin also told ARD television: The government must explain itself at some stage. Such decisions cannot be taken at a time when people are fighting for democracy in the Arab world. And now one's trying to say such heavy weapons can simply be sold to dictators - and that is the case in Saudi Arabia.”
Reports indicate that the Saudis already have about 1,000 battle tanks in their arsenal (mostly made by France and the U.S.). Reuters reported that Germany had refused to sell such tanks to Saudis for the past 20 years, until now. Apparently, Berlin authorities consulted with Israel and the U.S. before signing off on the sale.
The Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) newspaper quoted a German government official as saying: Everyone will understand that the Israeli government is in agreement. Otherwise, there would have been an official protest.”
Joachim Hoerster, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party and Arabic affairs expert, told BBC:
Normally you'd expect at least Israel would object if Saudi Arabia got a delivery of tanks. That was always the case in the past and that's why no [German] arms went there before. But the geo-political situation in the Middle East has evidently changed so much that Israel has no comment on all this - and that speaks volumes by itself.
Some of Merkel’s allies have also questioned the wisdom of the tank sale.
According to Agence France Presse, Ruprecht Polenz, a Christian Democrat and head of parliament's foreign affairs commission, indicated such a sale would violate all previous rules about exporting arms to countries in turmoil.
The parliament's Christian Democrat president, Norbert Lammert, also said he was concerned about the timing of the transaction in light of the ongoing crackdown in Bahrain.