Germany's Bundestag today approved a €1 billion deal for leasing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1). The UAVs in question are capable of carrying weapons payloads and carrying out attack missions in the German army's theaters of operation in Mali and Afghanistan. Israel has been tensely awaiting the results of the vote after the deal was torpedoed at the last minute last year due to opposition from the German Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The deal includes a €720 million payment to the Airbus Defense and Space company, which will lease seven UAVs from IAI (five regular UAVs and two for training) and €177 million to the Israeli government for use of airports, command and control facilities, and support and maintenance services. The center for training German crews is likely to be the Tel Nof air force base, which is explicitly mentioned in German documents as the training location for 85 German crews over the next nine years. A correspondent from German political journal "Cicero" wrote last week that the deal would have far-reaching consequences: "For the first time in its history, the Bundeswehr (German army) has a permanent presence in Israel."
The deal was approved this morning by the Bundestag defense committee and in the afternoon by the Bundestag budget committee. German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen was present at the vote. The SDP withdrew its objection to acquiring the Heron-TP UAVs after the new coalition agreement between the ruling German parties stated that any future decision to arm the UAVs would require a separate parliamentary vote "following a detailed assessment of the international law, German law, and ethical considerations." The coalition distributed a document today undertaking not to arm the leased UAVs and not to train the German crews in the use of armed UAVs at this stage. These commitments in the document will be canceled only after a public discussion of the consequences of using UAVs for attack missions and approval of this by the Bundestag.
A small demonstration by a few dozen opponents of the deal took place outside the Bundestag during the vote. Dr. Karl-Heinz Brunner, who represents the SDP on the Bundestag defense committee, told "Globes" on the fringes of the demonstration that he had voted against the deal. "Cooperation between the German army and IAI is successful and helps protect our soldiers," he said, adding that he was "absolutely opposed" to arming the new UAVs, which at this stage are to be used only for surveillance and intelligence. Past surveys showed a majority of the German public opposed the use of attack UAVs because of the risk of harming innocent bystanders.
Approval of the deal ends a five-year saga since the German army announced that it wanted to upgrade its IAI-made Heron 1 UAVs to the more advanced (and four times as large) Heron TP. The German media termed the agreement one of the most controversial weapons procurement projects in recent years because of the debate about arming the UAVs.
At last week's press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Merkel praised Israeli UAV technology, saying, "Germany and Israel are partners; we want to acquire advanced technologies from Israel." She added that the existing generation of UAVs was "doing exceptional work for surveillance and intelligence needs in Mali." "They are helping to preserve the security of our soldiers there and can even increase it," she concluded. Barring last-minute changes, the German army's first armed UAVs will be made in Israel.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 12, 2018
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