Hold Fire

Germany Rethinks Arms Trade with Saudi Arabia

Leopardf Getty
Clash over the Leopard.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran puts Germany, a key weapons exporter to the region, in an awkward position.

  • Facts


    • Saudi Arabia is the third biggest importer of German weapons, after Britain and Israel.
    • Germany sold €178 million worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2015.
    • Germany refuses to sell the Gulf nation Leopard 2 tanks and G36 assault rifles.
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Escalating diplomatic tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have implications for Germany’s arms exports, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has announced.

Germany is to monitor arms exports to Saudi Arabia more closely in light of the country’s decision to carry out a mass execution of prisoners at the start of the new year, said Mr. Gabriel, who is also head of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), a partner in Germany’s left-right coalition government.

Saudi Arabia sparked outrage across the Middle East and rest of the world on Friday when it executed 47 prisoners, including a respected Shiite cleric, for terrorism-related offences.

Protesters in Shiite-dominated Iran attacked the Saudi embassy in the capital Tehran, leading to a severing of diplomatic ties between the two major regional powers.

Germany has already stopped selling tanks and G36 Heckler and Koch assault rifles to Saudi Arabia, but it continues to provide other defensive weapons.

“We must now review whether in future we should take a more critical stance on defensive armaments which we have so far sold to Saudi Arabia for its national defense,” said Mr. Gabriel, who is also the economics minister.

A spokesman in his ministry added that recent events would be considered when deciding whether to continue with arms deals already in the pipeline.

The recent government report on arms exports shows that Saudi Arabia is still the third biggest importer of German weapons, after Britain and Israel.

In the first half of 2015, Germany sold Saudi Arabia SUVs, parts for armored vehicles, aerial refueling equipment and parts for combat aircraft at a cost of €178 million ($192 million).

But there are some weapons Germany has refused to send in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly expressed an interest in German Leopard 2 tanks, a request that has so far been refused.

In April, it emerged that the German government had stopped Spain exporting more than 200 Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia. The Spanish company Santa Barbara Sistemas builds the tanks under license from German manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and had agreed to send a fleet to Saudi Arabia.

Diplomatic sources said the deal was stopped after Mr. Gabriel protested that it did not tally with German arms export policies. Spain would have to acquire license rights and tank components in Germany to close the deal; something Mr. Gabriel made clear would not be forthcoming.

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