18 July 2011. A World to Win News Service. Berlin's recent decision to sell 200 Leopard-2 tanks to Saudi Arabia sheds light on both Germany's active participation in repressing Arab peoples and Israel's centrality in that repression.
The sale of these tanks was supposed to be a secret. Unusually, someone in the German national security council leaked the news to Der Spiegel, which instead of ignoring it, provoked a scandal, leading some observers to believe that there is dissension in the highest circles about this issue.
These 62-tonne tanks are equipped with advanced weapons systems. Their stabilization mechanism allows them to fire their cannons with great accuracy while advancing at top speed over rough terrain. Israel used its own Merkava tanks based on earlier Leopard-2 designs and imported German components for its last invasion of Lebanon. But this particular Leopard-2 model is also equipped for use against unarmed civilians. They have plow-like "clearance blades" in front, designed to sweep away barricades, and "non-lethal" features for "crowd control".
"This would be the perfect tank to drive into Bahrain and crack down on any uprising," a researcher at the Bonn International Centre for Conversion commented to The New York Times 7 July. Last March Saudi Arabia sent tanks, armoured cars and troops into Bahrain to put down a protest movement demanding that the monarchy grant the same rights to the Shia majority as the Sunni elite. Four dozen hospital doctors and nurses are now facing prison for having treated wounded demonstrators. Many have been tortured into giving televised "confessions". Two protesters have been sentenced to death. "It's also a good tank to fight any demonstrations in Riyadh", the Saudi capital, he added.
Saudi Arabia had a causeway built to allow its armed forces to roll into the tiny neighbouring Bahrain archipelago for the same reason that it has always worked to hold sway over other neighbours, like Yemen: the Saudi royal family fear that any instability and popular stirrings would threaten their reign. Obama's apologists for the Saudi monarchy usually make the following realpolitick argument: Shia Iran is encouraging the Bahraini Shias to demand their rights as a way to threaten the Saudi rulers, who fear a revolt against their despotism by the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. What this reasoning deliberately overlooks is the question of right and wrong. The subtext is that Shias shouldn't have equal rights because that might be bad for American interests.
German officials took a different tactic in defending these weapons sales, to the extent that they commented at all. In general, the government tried to suffocate the scandal with what some media dubbed "an iron silence" and refused to confirm or deny the reports. But a foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union argued that the deal was morally defensible because it was meant to protect Israel.
"Every step that we take in the region we take with the condition that it promotes the security and the right to exist of Israel," Philipp Missfelder said. (NYT)
Quoting an unnamed official, the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that Israel and the US had both backed the deal, offering as proof that neither government raised public objections even after the scandal broke.
You might ask how, and against whom, these German tanks are supposed to defend Israel. After all, even if you were to swallow the specious argument about the existential threat to Israel posed by Iran, no one claims it could take the form of Persian armies marching across the Arabian peninsula to Tel Aviv.
Those tanks have only one plausible target, and that is the people of the peninsula itself. As even the NYT went on to explain, "Once viewed by Israel as a potential threat, the government in Saudi Arabia is increasingly viewed as a guarantor of stability in a region in upheaval, as revolutionary fervour sweeps through the Middle East."
"Promoting the security and right to exist of Israel" means supplying some of the world's most modern tools for killing people to one of the world's most medieval regimes (even worse than the Islamic Republic of Iran when it comes to women's rights) to preserve "stability" – defending, from their own people, the network of reactionary and mostly US-dependent regimes that extends from Morocco to Turkey, along with defending Israel from the people who were cleared out and put down to build the Zionist state.
Germany's dedication to Israel has nothing to do with atonement for the crimes it committed against Jews, any more than those crimes justify further crimes against other people. Weapon sales to Israel played an important role in German rearmament, starting in the 1950s when German companies began building weapons for Israel that the German armed forces were not yet allowed to have under the terms of the treaty that ended World War 2. The development of arms technology and manufacturing with and for Israel (often in conjunction with the US, UK, Spain and other powers) helped Germany become the world's number three arms exporter, an industry that has been central to the wealth of its finance capitalists, and at the same time build an extraordinarily well-equipped army even as it was supposedly renouncing its wartime past.
The sale of Leopard-2 tanks to Saudi Arabia will bring in about 1.7 billion euros for leading German companies. Although the American press has criticized Germany for being "mercantilist, with a foreign policy that is, first and foremost, concerned with its own economic interests" (NYT), this rings hollow in light of the fact that "The Saudis are also in talks with US companies for 41 billion euros worth of defence equipment that would become the largest US contract ever." (Agence France Press) But this recycling of petrodollars into Western coffers goes along with much broader economic interests and a politics that represents them.
While Merkel's Social Democrat rivals have used this occasion to accuse her of "a frightening lack of judgement" (Die Welt Online), they followed the same politics when they led the government. In 2005, on its last day in office, the "red-green" coalition of Social Democrats and Greens signed a contract to sell Israel more Dolphin submarines than it could use to deploy its nuclear missiles throughout the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, aimed mainly at Iran and Pakistan, thus bringing hundreds of millions of people under the increased threat of a nuclear holocaust.
Germany's strategic alliance with Israel has been a substantial factor in enabling its monopoly capitalist rulers to once again flourish after their defeat in the world war. In fact, the domination of the Middle East for which Israel is the current linchpin has been a major factor in the prosperity of all the Western imperialist powers.
(For more on the history of German-Israeli arms cooperation, see "In the Water, on the Land, and in the Air" by Otfried Nassauer, 3 April 2009, on the bits.de Web site.)