The Bundestag (German Parliament) is likely to approve a €1 billion deal for leasing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1). The UAVs are likely to carry munitions in the future and carry out attacks in the German army's theaters of operations in Mali and Pakistan. Israel is tensely awaiting the vote, after the deal was torpedoed in 2017 at the last minute by political opposition from the German Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Sources inform "Globes" that in recent weeks, a tumultuous debate has been held on the deal in the SDP, a partner in the coalition headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Several SDP members oppose the purchase of UAVs likely to bear munitions. Most of the party's representatives on the relevant committees, however, are expected to vote for the deal.
Merkel expressed public support for the deal for the first time last week at a joint press conference in Berlin with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the Israeli UAVS "protect German soldiers."
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 teams is likely to be the Tel Nof air force base, which is explicitly mentioned in German documents as the training location for 85 German teams 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."
A vote in the Bundestag defense committee is scheduled for tomorrow, following which the deal will be brought to the budget committee for approval. The coalition has a majority on both committees, which are expected to approve the deal. 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."
Opponents will demonstrate outside the Bundestag
At the same time, several SDP representatives on the committees are still threatening to vote against the deal, even if it is a mere symbolic act that will not prevent approval of the deal. "Purchasing the UAVs was a matter for angry disputes within the SDP Bundestag faction," revealed Bundestag budget committee member Sven Schulze in a letter to his supporters. "I reserve the right to oppose the purchase of armed UAVs and to oppose the purchase of UAVs likely to be armed in the future."
Another SDP Bundestag member, Dr. Karl-Heinz Brunner, who represents the party on the defense committee, announced that he would attend tomorrow's demonstration in front of the Bundestag against the purchase of the UAVs. A coalition of pacifist organization opposed to the deal is organizing the demonstration, arguing, "Armed UAVs have only fueled hatred and war in every country in which were used." Two Bundestag members did not respond to a "Globes" query on the issue. Past surveys have showed that a majority of the German public opposed the use of attack UAVs because of the risk of harming innocent bystanders.
Possible approval of the deal will end a three-year saga since the German army announced that it wanted to upgrade its IAI-made Heron 1 UAVs to the more advanced Heron TP.
At last week's press conference, Merkel praised the Israel UAV technology, saying, "Germany and Israel are partners; we want to acquire advanced technologies from Israel." She added, "The existing generation of UAVs is 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." 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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