HAVANA TIMES, July 26 (IPS) — Germany’s delivery of armored tanks to Saudi Arabia is not aimed at repressing local or regional popular uprisings, but to improve Saudi military capabilities in a likely war against Iran, diplomatic and military experts say.
The German government’s decision to deliver 200 state-of-the-art Leopard 2 armored tanks to the Saudi monarchy – a deal estimated at 1.8 billion Euros – has triggered a wave of criticism by opposition leaders, commentators, the church and human rights groups.
Despite this criticism, the German government has defended the delivery of the tanks to Saudi Arabia, arguing that the Saudi monarchy, albeit a despotic regime, is “a pillar of stability” in the Middle East.
The German government also cites lack of U.S. or Israeli opposition, as justification for the deal with Saudi Arabia.
Contrary to the apprehension expressed by opposition leaders, commentators, and human rights groups, diplomatic and military experts believe that the Saudi regime will not use the German tanks to repress local popular uprisings demanding democratic reforms, but to eventually wage a war against Iran.
“To repress domestic enemies, the Saudis can use better suited equipment, including some 2,000 armored troops transport vehicles,” said Josef Joffe, publisher of the weekly newspaper ‘Die Zeit’.
Joffe is considered one of the most outspoken defenders among German media of the U.S.-Western European military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He also has links to the U.S. and to the Israeli governments.
By delivering the Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia, Joffe added, “Germany, together with the U.S.A. and Israel, is sending a message to the region, specifically to Iran: Here is more [military] deterrence. This argument should not be sneezed at.”
Joffe recalled that Germany recently delivered similar military equipment to other Arab governments. “In 2009, Germany delivered 36 Leopard 2 tanks to Qatar,” he said.
Additionally, the German army, the Bundeswehr, has admitted to carrying out military exercises in the United Arab Emirates to test the Leopard 2 tanks capabilities in the desert. The tests were apparently satisfactory.
Other Western governments – especially the U.S., Britain, and France – have for decades helped the Saudis to improve their arsenals.
Avi Primor, former Israeli ambassador to Berlin, and current president of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Association, agreed with Joffe. “Saudi Arabia uses other military equipment better suited to combat domestic popular uprisings,” Primor said.
In their recent intervention in Bahrain to help the repress the popular protests against the al-Khalifa family regime, the Saudis used light AMX armored tanks and not the heavier M1A2 Abrams tanks, of U.S. manufacture, Primor explained.
The Leopard 2 tanks are addressed to Iran specifically, Primor said.
Primor recalled that officially, Saudi Arabia is still at war with Israel. “But Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common enemy, Iran,” he said. “The Saudis consider Iran the most dangerous threat.”
Similarly, he added, “Israel has an urgent interest to strengthen the Saudi military capabilities, as a fortification against the Iranian danger, and as a stable power in the now unsecure Arab world.”
However, Primor said that the critique of human rights groups against the delivery of military equipment to Saudi Arabia is “understandable”. “The Saudi regime is quite archaic,” he said.
Despite such arguments, criticism of the tank exports is not going to end soon. Reinhold Robbe, until last year parliamentary commissioner for the German army, said that Saudi Arabia “is surely not a country that can stand up to the western standards of democracy and human rights.”
Such standards should be the guideline of German foreign policy, including military aid, Robbe said.
The Catholic Church also criticized the deal. “Germany should not deliver weapons in regions in military crisis, or to regimes that violate human rights,” said Bishop Stephan Ackerman, head of the church commission ‘Justitia et Pax’.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the Saudi human rights record “dismal”, and emphasized that the regime is one of very few countries in the Arab region whose government has offered no human rights reforms in the wake of the popular uprisings spreading through neighboring countries since the beginning of the year.
“The sight of Saudi tanks rolling into Bahrain signaled the start of Bahrain’s crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters there,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Saudi Arabia researcher at HRW. “Saudi reformers may well interpret selling tanks to Saudi Arabia at this time as German support for repressive regimes.”
But the German government is turning a deaf ear to such criticism. Instead, it has been offering military equipment to other regimes with similar human rights records.
During a recent trip to Angola in mid-July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered the government of Jose Eduardo Dos Santos patrol boats and other military equipment.
It is not clear as yet, whether the boats will be delivered to Angola, but commentators are aghast that Merkel ignored the wave of criticism caused by the delivery of the Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia and instead acted as “a sales manager for the military industry”, said Claudia Roth, president of the opposition Green party here.
For Thorsten Denkler, foreign policy analyst for the daily newspaper ‘Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung’, “Merkel’s sensors seem to be failing.” Angola, Denkler added, “is one of the most corrupt regimes of the world, where even the constitution cements the one party system.”
Denkler also recalled that Amnesty International repeatedly condemns the human rights violations in the South West African country.
Denkler complained that Merkel’s appeals for a real political understanding of military exports ignores the basic moral prerequisites of foreign policy. “It is not that Germany should not export weapons,” Denkler said. “But such exports should only occur towards states where democracy and the rule of law are guaranteed.”