German lawmakers approve €1 billion drone lease from Israel
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German lawmakers approve €1 billion drone lease from Israel

Long-range surveillance Heron-TP aircraft deal had faced opposition by center-left parliamentarians because UAVs can also be armed

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)
The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)

Germany’s parliamentary budget committee on Wednesday approved a military lease of Israeli-made Heron-TP drones in a deal worth an estimated €1 billion ($1.2 billion).

The deal had faced opposition from the center-left Social Democrats, who are partners in the ruling coalition, because the surveillance drones can also be equipped with weapons.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the approval of the deal.

“This is an enormous contribution to the Israeli defense industry and the Israeli economy. This giant deal is an expression of the strategic cooperation between Germany and Israel and attests to the potential of the Israeli industry to contribute to countries like Germany,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Netanyahu discussed the deal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their meeting last week in Berlin, according to the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Germany’s coalition parties agreed in February to lease unarmed drones built by Israel Aerospace Industries and to hold a debate on arming the aircraft at a later date.

The opposition Greens party voted against the deal, noting that €50 million ($59 million) had already been set aside for a program to arm the drones.

“The big promised debate about the arming of the drones is a farce given what’s already included in this contract,” said Greens lawmaker Tobias Lindner, who is on the budget committee, according to the Reuters news agency.

The overall deal, which will see the drones leased through 2027, is made up of two contracts.

The first, worth $600 million, is between the government-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, which manufactures the Heron, and Europe’s Airbus to manage “all aspects of the project, including operational support and maintenance,” IAI said in a statement.

This nine-year agreement requires final approval from the German government, which is expected by the end of the year, IAI said.

The second contract is with the Israeli government directly, specifically the Defense Ministry, to provide training, infrastructure, and logistics.

The long-endurance drones will be based in Israel when they are not in use by Germany.

Germany is leasing the Israeli drones until European-built models are ready for operation around 2025, according to the report.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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