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In the Water, on the Land, and in the Air The German-Israeli Armaments Cooperation

BITS - Berlin Information center for Transatlantic Security

Thursday 11 شوال 1430, by Otfried Nassauer

All the versions of this article:

  • English

The Israeli air force bombarded targets in Lebanon. The Israeli army pushed into Lebanese villages and cities that they regarded as Hizbollah strongholds. The Israeli navy blockaded the country at sea. During all these operations, military technology "Made in Germany" was put to use. Reason enough for a sharper look at a particular kind of atonement.

Guenther Hillinger [name altered] had a problem. The veteran engineer of the AEG factory in Wedel had simply found it on the notice board. An internal memorandum instructed him and his colleagues: "Subject: LTDS hardware / production documents: there must be no "AEG" logos on any individual parts (...). In case hardware already exists with AEG logos for the prototypes, this mark must be removed before the equipment is delivered." That was 1986.

The LTDS is a showpiece of German engineering art and responsible for the fact that the Leopard 2 tank aims better than all competitors. Even when moving at top speed and in rough terrain, it ensures that the cannon remains directed precisely toward the target being aimed at. It stabilizes the tank’s turret and guides it precisely. Thus the Leopard 2 can shoot and hit the target, where many other tanks produce only airholes. The prototypes and the production documents were ready for delivery. The problem was the recipient: he was in Israel and worked on a new tank, the Merkava 3. As Hillinger knew by means of the prototypes and the production documents, it was possible for the Israelis to reproduce the LTDS, which could then be adapted for the Merkava.

Should they aid Israel with such an awkward delivery of the most modern weapons technology? Was the delivery legal at all? Was it authorized? Why must all the AEG logos be removed? Did the origin have to be disguised?

Only four years earlier it was just this Israel, under the military leadership of Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, that undertook a bloody campaign in Lebanon, in order to eliminate the PLO and to install a government that was well-disposed to Tel Aviv. Israel still occupied the southern part of the country, and there were still constant armed clashes. Now mostly with the Shiite Hizbollah militia, which had been formed against the occupation in the south.

Guenther Hillinger’s conscience troubled him. Yet before he found a safe way to make the matter public, the equipment was called for.

Made in Israel - Made in Germany?

Today, 20 years later, the LTDS and its further developments are to be found in the Israeli army’s Merkava-3 and Merkava-4 tanks. These are seeing action once again in Lebanon. True, there are rumours in the specialized publications that the important Leopard components, known as Geadrive today, are in the Merkava. Israel says, though, that it is its own development, produced in Israel.

An unusual story? For the German-Israeli armaments cooperation it is rather symptomatic. The technology of the Leopard-2’s 120 mm smooth-bore cannon also found its way to Israel via twisting paths. Whether directly from the workshops of the manufacturer Rheinmetall or via the American production under licence, is unknown. Here too, Israel talks about its own development. Likewise with reference to the armour plating, where there is cooperation with the German engineering firm IDB-Deisenroth.

Other German components in the Merkavas are spoken of more openly. The tank drives are supplied by Renk AG of Augsburg. The motors were developed by MTU and assembled from the individual parts by an American licensee. From there they were sent to Israel. That has advantages for Jerusalem, because Israel - which is short of hard currency - can use US military aid to pay for deliveries from American general employers.

"What swims, goes"

So goes an adage that is attributed to Hans Dietrich Genscher, German’s long-serving Foreign Minister. It also applies for Israel. The Saar 5 corvette, hit by a Hizbollah missile for sea-going targets during the naval blockade off the Lebanese coast, had an MTU motor. The same company’s motors are also installed in the Israeli speedboats and corvettes of the Saar 4.5, Super Dvora Mk2, and Shaldag classes.

The Israeli navy uses submarines that were developed in Germany. First there were three GAL-class vessels, that were produced clandestinely in England following German plans and with the help of German engineers. Today there are three Dolphin-class submarines. These were developed in the 1980s at the Ingenieurkontor Luebeck, the Kiel Werft HDW, and Atlas Elektronik in Bremen, in accordance with Israeli requests. They were built in Kiel and Emden by HDW and the Thyssen Nordseewerken. Delivery took place in 1998-2000. In Israel they were once again re-equipped. Since Israel could not afford the vessels financially, they were paid for out of the German federal budget, to more than 80%. The occasion for this present was the Iraqi rockets, containing German technology, that struck Israel in 1991 during the Gulf War. One of the vessels’ main weapons also comes from Germany - the Atlas Elektronik company’s heavy torpedos for sea-based targets. They are again delivered via the USA, so that US military aid can be used for the financing. Israel can employ the submarines in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf region for reconnaissance and for traditional naval warfare. They can bring combat divers into position for operations, lay underwater mines, and fire missiles at targets at sea and on land. A mystery has grown up around their most delicate mission, however.

The Dolphin submarines possess a special kind of equipment. Torpedo tubes of various sizes were built in the bow. Six normal tubes of the 533 mm calibre, four oversized, of 650 mm calibre. With the small tubes the submarine can perform all described tasks. But what are the large tubes for?

Israel is an undeclared nuclear power. It sees the Dolphin submarines as a part of its strategic potential. Since it became known that Israel tested a missile with a range of 1000-1500 kilometres off the coast of Sri Lanka in 2000, many observers assume that Israel wants to place some of ist atomic weapons on submarines, where they will be invulnerable. Since the submarines are mobile, they can cover many more targets, and much more distant targets. From the German point of view the question arises as to whether Germany contributed to nuclear proliferation with the Dolphin export, since it supplied Jerusalem with a weapons platform for nuclear missiles. At the least, though, the credibility of the German nonproliferation policy is damaged just by the suspicion that Israel uses the submarines as nuclear weapons carriers.

Small components - major effect

Specialists work at the Heidelberg firm AIM-Infrarot-Module. They make infrared modules for reconnaissance, targeting, and firing at targets. 280 employees did 47 million euros worth of business (2004), 45% of that in the USA. There, thousands of Heidelberg modules are installed in combat planes’ components, such as the LANTIRN targeting containers or in helicopter systems such as TADS, that comes into action in the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship. With the aid of the module, aeroplane and helicopter weapons can be aimed and fired very precisely. The more frequently the guided, distance, and precision weapons are used, the more important such electro-optical components become. They make it possible for the first time to use the expensive weapons platform effectively.

That applies also to Israel’s flying weapons systems. Most of these come from the USA. Israel has many type F-16 fighter-bombers and Apache helicopters. When these shoot at targets in Lebanon, the German infrared modules are usually on board. Just when Israel is involved, the label "Made in Germany" often is not there on the outside, but rather inside on important components.

Israel and Germany have been cooperating for years, to mutual advantage, in the area of electronic and electro-optical systems for fighter aircraft, for example. "Cerberus" came into being in the 1970s as a secret project, an electronic jamming system against air defence systems, that fly today with the Tornado, as TSPJ. Even the German parliament itself [Bundestag] first found out about the existence of the project only some years later. The company Zeiss Optronic GmbH cooperates with the Israeli firm Rafael in the production and marketing of target reconnaissance and targeting systems of the Litening and Recce Light types, that are also successful in export.

Small weapons

Although Israel possesses a very capable small weapons industry, occasionally such weapons also come from Germany. The Mauser company supplied sniper rifles in the 1980s. The PSG1 made by the company Heckler & Koch was tested as a successor, but found to be too expensive. The production know-how for German bazooka 3 firing devices was passed on to Israel. At present, Rheinmetall is working with a partner in the "Near East" on a system for sniper locating. It would be difficult to imagine that this partner is not resident in Israel.

Cooperation with tradition

There are things that really should not even exist. Already in 1955 and 1956 the shipyard Burmester built two patrol boats and sent them on their way to Israel. Armaments products which Germany was still forbidden to produce at that time. In 1958 Shimon Peres and Franz Josef Strauss agreed on further armaments deliveries. At first much had to be delivered in roundabout ways: Noratlas transport aeroplanes reached Israel via France; Gal-type submarines were built in Great Britain, speedboats underwent their "final assembly" in France and in times of war also were just "carried off" by the Israeli navy. The armaments cooperation functioned as a catalyst for the establishment of official relations between Germany and Israel. Nonetheless, it was and remained such a sensitive affair that still in 1991 the German Defence Ministry emphasized: "Since the beginning of the collaboration with Israel it has been the constant practice of all administrations to arrange this cooperation with as little publicity as possible nor to formalize it." It is not surprising that the overseas secret services, the Bundesnachrichtendienst [BND — German Intelligence Service] and Mossad, had the responsibility for turning many projects of the German-Isaeli armaments cooperation into reality.

The cooperation in the analysis of Soviet weapons technology beginning in 1967 was also delicate. Until well into the 1980s, Israel made available to Germany the captured weapons and analysis reports about the armaments that had been seized. Three wars in 1967, 1973, and 1982 regularly provided a new supply of material. The Bundeswehr [German armed forces] and the German armaments industry profited considerably — and in reverse, so did Israel once again. After the unification of the two German states, Germany too could deliver such hardware. It had inherited a whole army, the National People’s Army [Nationale Volksarmee]. Coordinated by the Federal Intelligence Service, numerous deliveries were organized. One was broken up when the Hamburg harbour police discovered it in the harbour. The armaments were declared as "agricultural machinery" — and the history of the German Intelligence Service was enriched by yet another scandal.

To mutual advantage

The German-Israeli armaments cooperation is not a one-way street. The Bundeswehr also places orders in Israel. Tank munitions, submarine components, devices for electronic warfare, targeting devices for aeroplanes, reconnaissance technology, and much more besides. The German armaments industry cooperates more and more frequently with its Israeli counterpart. Israeli developments, such as the Spike guided missile or targeting systems such as the Recce-Lite container, are also jointly marketed. The fact that German armaments companies occasionally even obtain collective export authorizations for the collaboration with Israel makes it clear how significant this cooperation is from the German point of view. Normally such authorizations exist only for cooperation with states that belong to the European Union or NATO, or which receive equal treatment. "Programmes (of the Bundeswehr), that contain certain opto-electronic components (...), cannot be continued at the level of the latest technology without the involvement of the Israeli manufacturer of these components", the German government informed Paul Schaefer, a representative of the Left Party.

Secure future

The German-Israeli armaments cooperation has a future. That is ensured, because Germany feels obligated to guarantee the security of Israel’s existence and itself imports many armaments from Israel. What Chancellor Schroeder stressed in 2002 will still be applicable in the future: "Israel receives what it needs to maintain its security and it receives it when it is needed."

Nothing about that changes, even if German armaments export authorizations are not issued during acute crises in the Near East. Germany will not impose an embargo. The authorization authorities then rather have recourse to an old proverb: "To be delayed is not to be cancelled." The requests are collected, stacked up, and only processed when the acute crisis is over. It was that way in 2002, when Israel undertook military punitive operations against the Palestinian territories. And it was that way now again during the Lebanon campaign. The good collaboration of the two states in the armaments sector suffers no damage from that. Jerusalem knows the procedure and can adapt itself to that.

Current examples also show that Israel receives what it needs: In 2005, on its last day in office, the red-green [Social Democrats and Greens] German administration signed a contract with Israel, that provides for the delivery of two more Dolphin submarines. The German taxpayers will directly bear one third of the costs of up to a billion euros; they pay one third indirectly when the Bundeswehr — as planned – purchases armaments in Israel. Israel pays the last third. The industrial contract was signed on 6 July in Berlin, but the construction authorization probably has not yet been issued. The submarines are supposed to contain the current showpiece of German naval technology: the fuel cell drive, independent of the outside air, with which the submarines can remain submerged much longer and travel further than all other conventional submarines. Israel finds that congenial. The vessels are suitable for patrolling in the Arabian Sea and in the Indian Ocean. Israel believes that the most serious opponents of the future are there: Pakistan, the nuclear power, and Iran, with its nuclear programme.

The newspaper "Die Welt" reported a further project authorized by the Federal Security Council [Bundessicherheitsrat] in the last week of June. An armoured combat vehicle of the Dingo-2 type is supposed to be handed over to Israel for testing purposes. For a longtime, Israel has wanted to buy 103 of these vehicles. They are especially suitable for use in the armed conflicts with militants and combatting insurgents. Under the red-green administration, Berlin had still shied away from supplying these. A licence for production was awarded to the US company Textron, which likewise received no export authorization. Now a precedent has been set. Whoever authorizes the delivery of a vehicle must give reasons why the authorization is not granted to others. The vehicle is supposed to be delivered without being equipped with weapons. Yet Israel has already declared that it intends to mount its own efficient weapons installation in the Dingo. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether German companies can be pleased about a Dingo contract from Israel or whether in a few years a "Dingo" - "Made in Israel" - comes onto the market.

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