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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (UPI) Dec 17, 2012
German lawmakers are demanding a say in arms sales abroad as Berlin seeks to sell 600 Leopard 2 tanks worth $12.6 billion and hundreds of armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a monarchy many Germans consider undemocratic with a poor human rights record.
Both systems are built under a joint venture between Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, two of Germany's leading defense companies.
The decision-making process involved in exporting these platforms, both modified for urban operations and combating uprisings, is conducted by the government behind closed doors.
That includes recent go-aheads on building three advanced attack Dolphin class submarines for Israel. These boats, modeled on Germany's Type 209 sub and built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG of Kiel, are capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles.
Critics say the subs, which will join three Dolphin class boats already serving with the Israeli navy, will escalate the nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Now, with Berlin lining up one big-ticket arms deal after another with Arab states, the government's facing increasing opposition to its dramatic relaxation of long-tight defense export regulations that prohibited arms sales to conflict zones or to regimes considered too autocratic.
In large part, that self-imposed ban was a relic of Germany's Nazi past and horrors of World War II.
But, because of the Holocaust, successive German governments have been key arms suppliers to Israel to ensure its security.
One of the reasons the coalition government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, like its immediate predecessor, has moved toward a more aggressive arms sales policy is because of Europe's economic woes.
Germany defense industry, one of the world's largest, has been hard hit by massive cuts in military spending that have made them increasingly dependent on export sales.
The seminal shift in Germany's foreign policy occurred June 27, 2011, when Merkel and Germany's Federal Security Council, which meets in secret, approved the sale of 200 Leopard 2A7+, Germany's most advanced tank, to Riyadh.
The so-called Arab Spring, the wave of pro-democracy uprisings in Arab states against longtime dictators, was 5 months old. The presidents of Tunisia and Egypt had been toppled. In Egypt, hundreds of protesters were killed. In the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, neighboring Saudi Arabia sent in tanks and troops to help the royal family crush its opposition.
Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, reported that was the first time Berlin decided to supply "heavy arms to an Arab government that has declared its intentions to fight to fight its opponents 'with an iron fist,' a country that deployed tanks against demonstrators in a neighboring country."
Former Defense Minister Volker Ruhe of the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel's own conservative party, declared that "this arms deal must be stopped."
Since then, the number of Leopards Riyadh wants has risen to 600. On top of that and the Boxer APC deal in the works, Berlin is reported to be planning to sell Egypt two Type-209 submarines, a deal worth at least $1.5 billion if it goes through.
Meantime, Egypt's gripped again by political upheaval after the new president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, sought to seize absolute power this month. That's raised the specter of an Islamist dictatorship in Cairo, and fueled German opposition to Merkel's arms export strategy.
The proposed Boxer sale has run into trouble because the vehicles are being sought by Saudi Arabia's National Guard, whose primary mission is protecting the ruling House of Saud.
"There is the possibility of German armored vehicles being used against the masses," Der Spiegel observed.
Merkel's coalition is also negotiating with Algeria, North Africa's military heavyweight. Rheinmetall wants to produce up to 1,200 Fuchs armored personnel carriers in Algeria.
Berlin has also underwritten a $2.8 billion deal with Algiers for two warships. The gulf emirate of Qatar is mulling the purchase of 200 Leopards for $2.5 billion. In Asia, Indonesia wants to buy 100 Leopards under a $287 million deal.
"Growing numbers of lawmakers are asking themselves why they are not involved in important debates and decisions on security policy," it observed.
Even members of Merkel's coalition are angry.
"Citizens have a justified interest in being informed about arms sales," declared Markus Loning, the government's human rights commissioner and a member of Merkel's junior partners, the pro-business Free Democrats.
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