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Anger over German-Saudi tank deal

Published time: July 06, 2011 10:17
Edited time: July 07, 2011 00:51

Berlin has reportedly given the green light for 200 Leopard 2A7+ battle tanks to be sold to Saudi Arabia. Critics call the planned delivery of the tanks tailored for urban warfare a breach of arms trade guidelines.

The deal, unofficially announced by sources in both Berlin and Riyadh, was approved in principle by Germany’s Security Council last week, according to media reports. The US and Israel have been informed and did not voice any objections, says Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The Leopard 2A7+ is one of the latest versions of the tank, which was first shown to the public in 2010. It has improved protection from rocket-propelled grenades and landmines and increased maneuverability to be better suited for urban combat.

While the German government did not officially confirm the reports, the news has provoked much criticism from both the opposition and members of the ruling coalition.

Critics say the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia goes against long-standing principles of not supplying advanced weapons to autocratic regimes.

"Such decisions cannot be taken at a time when people are fighting for democracy in the Arab world," the Green party’s parliamentary leader Juergen Trittin told ARD television on Tuesday.

There is concern that the multi-billion euro deal may damage the already conflict-ridden region.

"The government's readiness to sell 200 modern German tanks at a time of tension in the Middle East and the Arab peninsula denotes a frightening lack of judgment," the social-democrat parliamentary deputy leader Gernot Erler told Welt newspaper.

Social Democratic Party Secretary General Andrea Nahles went as far as accusing Angela Merkel’s cabinet of hypocrisy. Nahles says it supports public uprising in countries like Egypt and Tunisia while selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which has a poor human rights record and had only recently helped suppress a protest movement in the neighboring gulf state of Bahrain.

The exact terms of the future contract are yet to be settled.

There are several explanations as to why Germany is sending its tanks to Saudi Arabia, believes peace activist Jens Wagner.

“It is aimed at two things,” he said. “First, it is certain that the battle tanks are aimed against Iran, to further threaten Iran. And the second point, because these tanks are equipped also for defense against uprisings, riots and civil movements, it is also to crash any further political movement in the region.”

­Even if the German authorities are selling the tanks solely for economic gains, they have chosen the wrong moment for the deal, Franziska Brantner, German Member of the European Parliament, told RT.

“I think that the economic issue of course is an important one,” she said. “As far as I understood, the export, before it got its blessing, was checked with the Americans, who also gave, sort of, their OK to it.”

”I think, of course, it is also this idea of a stabilizing factor in the region, but I think this is completely misleading. We have seen what can happen to regimes and we do not think this is the right moment, first of all, to send such a signal politically but also to send really the arms,” Brantner added. ”Sometimes there must be limits to the economic interests of German firms.”

­According to Jan Van Aken, a foreign affairs expert from Germany’s left-wing opposition party Die Linke, there is a lot of opposition to the deal, including in the ruling coalition itself.

“Everybody here knows that it was Saudi Arabia that invaded Bahrain with tanks, by the way, to fight there in a bloody intervention,” he said. “Even in the ruling parties there are a lot of members who say,‘We cannot do this. We now send 200 modern tanks to Saudi Arabia, to that serious human rights violator. We will lose any kind of credit in the Arab world, so do not do it.’”

“Whether the government will make a U-turn, we will see,” Van Aken said. “We had the first demonstrations today, and we hope that there will be a larger movement and then maybe we can stop it.”