German Lawmakers Block Israeli Drone Deal After Discovering They're Armed

The drone deal was estimated at 580 million euros, for the leasing of three to five remotely-piloted vehicles

Heron TP 'Eitan'
Heron TP 'Eitan' Olivier Fitoussi

A deal for Germany to lease Israeli drones has been blocked by the former’s Social Democratic Party because the unmanned vehicles can carry weapons, according to Die Welt newspaper.

The SPD blocked the deal to lease the Israeli-made remotely piloted Heron TP vehicles (known locally as the Eitan) from the Israel Aerospace Industries in the Bundestag’s budget committee, the German newspaper reported on Wednesday evening.

The drone deal was estimated at 580 million euros for the leasing of three to five remotely-piloted vehicles.

Despite the report, Israel is still hoping thje deal will go ahead, even if not under the current German parliament.

When the deal was announced last year, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that the drones were chosen because they can be armed, adding that "it is important for the protection of soldiers.” But this ability to carry weapons was also the main reason for the SPD’s objections to the deal.

The German parliament is now about to begin its summer recess and a national election is scheduled for September. Die Welt reported that members of parliament said the deal was “dead” – but the possibility still exists, though rather unlikely, that it will be brought back for approval after the election.

In Israel, the battle over the leasing of the drones was not only a political matter but was also preceded by a legal struggle with American weapons maker General Atomics. The company petitioned the German courts to cancel the Israeli deal, but the petition was rejected in May.

Sources in the Israeli defense establishment have expressed hope in recent months that despite the conflict between the Israeli and American defense industries, the Israeli drone is the one that will be chosen in the end.

Germany already has three earlier versions of the Heron reconnaissance drone, which are deployed in Afghanistan. They are maintained by Airbus and cannot be armed.  The new drones are to serve as an interim measure until the EU develops its own, von der Leyen said. Germany, France, Italy and Spain plan to jointly develop a drone by 2025.

The possibility of a compromise was raised recently. According to the compromise, Germany would only buy the drones – but without any additional armaments. But when it was discovered that the training for using the drones would require arming them, the compromise was no longer acceptable to the SPD lawmakers.

The procurement of the drones, favored by the military because they are compatible with models they already own, has been a matter of contention between the parties in the ruling coalition government.

The deal is considered unusual because the drones are being leased rather than purchased. The deal would have based the drones in Israel and German RPV pilots would have operated them from Israel – at least at the beginning. Haaretz reported in the past that the German drone operators would be trained on simulators at Israeli air force bases.