Germany Resumes Arms Supply to Saudi Arabia After 5 Years Amidst Changing Middle East Landscape
Amid signs of a thawing relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the German government has decided to supply the short-range air-to-air missile IRIS-T to Saudi Arabia for the first time in about five years.
According to Deutsche Welle (DW) in Germany on the 10th (local time), Steffen Hebestreit, the spokesperson for the German Federal Government, announced that the German Federal Security Council (BSR) approved the export of 150 IRIS-Ts from Diehl Defense last month.
The IRIS-T missile, a collaborative effort involving five European nations and spearheaded by the German arms manufacturer Diehl Defense, is an air-to-air guided missile that features an infrared search device. This highly capable missile can be deployed with the Eurofighter Typhoon, a fighter jet developed jointly by Germany and three other nations. Recent reports reveal that Saudi Arabia successfully employed the Eurofighter and IRIS-T system to intercept a missile launched at Israel by the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, which has ties to Iran.
On her visit to Jerusalem, Israel, on the 7th, German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock hinted at potentially lifting the embargo against Saudi Arabia. She remarked that in the wake of the unexpected attack on Israel by the Palestinian armed faction Hamas on October 7th of the previous year, Saudi Arabia had played a significant role in bolstering Israel’s security. Baerbock also commended Saudi Arabia for its efforts in helping to prevent the escalation of war throughout the region.
In November 2018, during the reign of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany decided not to allow arms exports to Saudi Arabia, as it saw the Saudi royal family behind the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and criticized the poor human rights situation.
The fact that Saudi Arabia was supporting the government forces in the Yemeni civil war and fighting a proxy war with Iran also influenced the arms embargo. Germany, the fifth largest major arms exporter in the world, has been highly reluctant to export weapons to non-NATO countries due to its assessment as a criminal state that caused World War II.
However, DW analyzed that the relationship with Saudi Arabia began reevaluating as Olaf Scholz took power and the Yemeni civil war entered a lull. Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, is keeping open the possibility of peace negotiations with the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The German government’s position change could lead to a multi-billion euro arms deal with Saudi Arabia. In 2022 alone, Saudi Arabia spent $75 billion on weapons purchases. Matthias Wachter, head of the Department for International Cooperation, Security Policy, Raw Materials and Space at the Federation of German Industries (BDI), emphasized, “The lifting Germany’s embargo was justified and necessary. Through this, we can support Israel and prevent Germany from being isolated in Europe’s arms policy.”
There are dissenting voices within the coalition regarding the German government’s decision. Ricarda Lang, a representative of the Green Party, known for its emphasis on environmental and human rights issues, highlighted concerns regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and constitution. She expressed her stance that it remains inappropriate to proceed with delivering the Eurofighter to Saudi Arabia in light of these factors.
By. Miri Seon