Germany approves deal to lease Israeli-manufactured UAVs

PM Netanyahu commends Germany for approving deal which makes a "great contribution to Israeli security industry and economy".

Ben Ariel ,

Heron UAV drone
Heron UAV drone
Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash 90

Germany's Bundestag on Wednesday approved a €1 billion deal for leasing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd.

According to the Globes financial newspaper, the UAVs in question are capable of carrying weapons payloads and carrying out attack missions in the German army's theaters of operation in Mali and Afghanistan.

Israel had been tensely awaiting the results of the vote after the deal was torpedoed at the last minute last year due to opposition from the German Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The deal includes a €720 million payment to the Airbus Defense and Space company, which will lease seven UAVs from IAI (five regular UAVs and two for training) and €177 million to the Israeli government for use of airports, command and control facilities, and support and maintenance services.

The center for training German crews is likely to be the Tel Nof air force base, which is explicitly mentioned in German documents as the training location for 85 German crews over the next nine years.

The deal was approved by the Bundestag defense committee and in the afternoon by the Bundestag budget committee, according to Globes. German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen was present at the vote.

The SDP withdrew its objection to acquiring the Heron-TP UAVs after the new coalition agreement between the ruling German parties stated that any future decision to arm the UAVs would require a separate parliamentary vote "following a detailed assessment of the international law, German law, and ethical considerations."

Approval of the deal ends a five-year saga since the German army announced that it wanted to upgrade its IAI-made Heron 1 UAVs to the more advanced (and four times as large) Heron TP. The German media termed the agreement one of the most controversial weapons procurement projects in recent years because of the debate about arming the UAVs.

At a press conference last week with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Merkel praised Israeli UAV technology, saying, "Germany and Israel are partners; we want to acquire advanced technologies from Israel."

She added that the existing generation of UAVs was "doing exceptional work for surveillance and intelligence needs in Mali” and continued, “They are helping to preserve the security of our soldiers there and can even increase it.”

Netanyahu on Wednesday commended the German government and parliament for approving the deal, saying, "This is a great contribution to the Israeli security industry and to the Israeli economy. The giant deal is an expression of the strategic partnership between Germany and Israel and attests to the potential of Israeli industry to contribute to countries such as Germany."

“The Prime Minister would like to thank the Chancellor for dealing with the issue,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.