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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Germany u-turns on Saudi warplane deal

Berlin had previously blocked the sale of Eurofighter jets to Riyadh over the war in Yemen

Germany has dropped its opposition to the sale of nearly 50 Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes to Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced on Sunday. Baerbock’s Green party has steadily dismantled its long-standing policy of pacifism since the conflict in Ukraine escalated in February 2022.

Germany halted all arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2018 in response to Riyadh’s war in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the time, Saudi Arabia had taken delivery of 72 Typhoons, but the embargo left the remaining 48 ordered by the Kingdom on indefinite hold.

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Speaking in Israel on Sunday, Baerbock said that “the world, especially here in the Middle East, has become a completely different place” since Hamas launched its attack on Israel in October.

Baerbock said that providing Saudi Arabia with the jets would make a “key contribution” to Israel’s security, presumably by deterring Saudi Arabia and Israel’s chief geopolitical rival, Iran.

The Typhoon deal would also “help stem the risk of a regional conflagration,” she continued, concluding that “we do not see the German government opposing British considerations for more Eurofighters for Saudi Arabia.”

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The Eurofighter project is a joint venture by France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. As such, any one of these partners can veto its sale to foreign customers. The 72 Typhoons already given to Riyadh, plus the 48 in limbo, would all be sold by the UK.

While the Saudi embargo was put in place by former Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was seen as unlikely that Germany’s current coalition government would reverse the policy, given the longstanding aversion to foreign intervention of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ Social Democrats and Baerbock’s Greens.

Before the federal elections of 2021, the Green party’s manifesto explicitly stated that it wanted to “end European arms exports to war and crisis zones.” By the end of 2022, Green Party member and economy minister, Robert Habeck, had okayed the sale of spare parts and ammunition to Saudi Arabia, while he and Baerbock clashed with Scholz on several occasions by urging the chancellor to provide heavier weapons to Ukraine.

Baerbock is said to have gone behind her boss’s back on at least two occasions to push Germany’s allies into pressuring Scholz to approve tank deliveries to Kiev.

It is unclear when the Eurofighter sale will take place. A German government spokesperson told Politico on Monday that there is currently no tender procedure in place.

Germany is the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Saudi Arabia is the second-largest arms importer.