A new contract between the German Ministry of Defense, Airbus, and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) for leasing UAVs for €1 billion “is likely to be signed in the coming weeks,” German parliament member Fritz Felgentreu, responsible for defense affairs in the German Social Democratic Party, has told “Globes.”
Felgentreu said that the new coalition agreement signed between Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling CDU/CSU Party and the Social Democrats paved the way for smooth approval of the contract. “Germany needs these Israeli UAVs,” he added.
The German Ministry of Defense estimates the cost of the agreement, which includes leasing five Heron TP UAVs manufactured by IAI in cooperation with Airbus, at €1 billion over nine years. The UAVs are designed to provide the German army with intelligence gathering capabilities and support for its various missions around the world until a Euro-Drone is developed in partnership with France, Italy, and Spain.
The issue of using UAVs for targeted killing and attacks has aroused public criticism in Germany in recent years. The fact that the US has increased its use of UAVs for this purpose worldwide, and reports of innocent victims of UAV attacks, has made the offensive use of these aircraft controversial among the German public. A number of organizations are waging special campaigns in German against the use of offensive UAVs. The German opposition - representatives of leftist party Die Linke and the Green Party - has consistently allied itself with this criticism, and previously opposed the deal with Israel.
A petition posted a week ago on the website of the TAZ leftist newspaper, for example, under the headline “Say No to Offensive UAVs for the Bundeswehr,” calls on the German public to pressure the government to reject any use of “these aggressive weapons.”
Felgentreu nevertheless anticipates no political problems in getting the current government to approve the deal. “If the contract with Airbus and IAI is written and signed according to the definitions appearing in the coalition agreement, there will be no problem with its approval in the German parliament. This was the substance of the problem the last time. They may make merely minor changes in the contract, but they will not involve the volume of the deal or the payments that it includes; the changes will be of a more political nature.”
A stage in the development of a European UAV
According to reports in the German media last summer, the military section of Airbus will be responsible for operating and using the UAV's leased from IAI. Another small part of the contract dealing with maintenance of the UAVs will probably be signed directly with IAI.
The UAVs are due to become available to the German army starting at the end of 2019. As part of the contract, the practical know-how accumulated about use of the UAVs will help Airbus in developing the European UAV. According to the German media, the sensor and photography systems on the UAVs will also be supplied by Israeli companies.
The contract with IAI was the subject of a hearing in the German legal system, following a petition by IAI's competitor in the tender - US company General Atomics. The court in Dusseldorf ruled early last year that decision-making in the tender was proper, and gave the deal a green light.
The German media has not trained its guns on the deal so far. Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff commented on the deal in an interview with German news program Tagesschau in February before the current German government was formed, saying that he "sees great importance in the agreement to lease the UAVs. It not only strengthens cooperation between the countries, but it creates an equal relationship between them. We are already conducting joint air exercises, and the work on the submarines (that Germany is supplying to Israel, A.U.) involves close cooperation between our navies.” Felgentreu agrees with these comments, saying, “We have full defense cooperation with Israel. We are committed to its security, and are glad to help Israel in order to preserve our security.”
A minister friendlier to Israel
The contract was already ready to be signed last summer, but last-minute opposition by the Social Democratic Party, led by then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, prevented the signing at the last minute. The German Ministry of Defense repeatedly asserted that the UAVs would be used solely for intelligence and support needs, but the technical possibility of using them to launch missiles was enough for the Social Democrats to allege that a breach of the former coalition agreement was involved, and to oppose the deal. Gabriel has since resigned from the party leadership, and his place as Minister of Foreign Affairs has been taken by Heiko Maas, who is regarded as friendly to Israel, and who promised to “restart” relations between the countries. Maas was involved in the contacts between the parties on the formation of the new government.
”Last summer, the contract presented to the German parliament deviated from the deviated from the previous coalition agreement between us and the CDU, due to the possibility that German soldiers might be trained to launch missiles using UAVs, and the fact that the aircraft were likely to be armed,” Felgentreu explained. “This is the reason why our party put the brakes on in the matter. Now there was a new round of coalition talks, and the political issue was settled between the parties in the framework of the new agreement. Actually, the contract is the same contract, but the coalition agreement between the parties is different. This is the bottom line.”
The current coalition agreement on which the German government was formed last month states that a number of UAV's from Israel will be leased, but any arming of them with missiles or offensive use of them will be discussed separately by the German parliament “taking into account considerations of ethics, international law, and the German constitution. Arming the UAVs will always depend on the definitions of the German army's tasks, because our parliament will have to decide each case on its merits,” Felgentreu says. “In any case, now, for the first time, the German army will have UAVs capable of bearing armaments. This has been the major question up until now: whether or not Germany wants UAVs of this type.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 8, 2018
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