Netanyahu thanks Merkel for German approval of Israeli drone lease deal

PM hails continued strengthening of defense relations with Berlin

Heron TP (Eitan) is designed to fly at high altitude on missions spanning several days developed by the Israel Aerospace Industry. (Tsahi Ben-Ami / Flash 90)
Heron TP (Eitan) is designed to fly at high altitude on missions spanning several days developed by the Israel Aerospace Industry. (Tsahi Ben-Ami / Flash 90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her part in the approval by Germany’s parliamentary budget committee on Wednesday of a military lease of Israeli-made Heron-TP drones in a deal worth an estimated €1 billion ($1.2 billion).

“I want to personally thank Chancellor Merkel, with whom I spoke only ten days ago on the subject,” he said. “She told me she’d pass it on to parliament and she did.”

He said, “It’s a huge deal with implications firstly for our defense industry and Israel’s economy, but also for the continued strengthening of defense relations between Germany and Israel. Germany helps Israel and Israel also helps Germany.”

Netanyahu met with the German leader during a three-stop European tour earlier this month aimed at rallying support for the amendment of the international nuclear deal signed with Iran and getting Iranian forces out of neighboring Syria.

He also visited with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) in Berlin, Germany on June 4, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

The drone 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.

The overall package, 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 reportedly leasing the Israeli drones until European-built models are ready for operation around 2025.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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