The deputy chairman of Germany’s second-largest party said he wants to limit arms exports into the Middle East, including Israel.
“Germany must not deliver weapons to conflict areas and to dictators,” Ralf Stegner, of the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD, said in an interview Sunday. “What about Saudi Arabia? What about Qatar? I am also asking: What about Israel?”
The SPD is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
Stegner admitted that Germany has a great responsibility for Israel’s security, according to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “But I don’t have the impression that weapons in the Middle East contribute to solving the problem.”
Stegner clarified that his position is not to be understood to be anti-Israel — “I’m just against arms exports into crisis areas and dictatorship!” he tweeted.
Other German politicians rejected Stegner’s statement. “Israel is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and a friendly state. Due to our history, Israel enjoys special care,” said Florian Hahn, defense spokesman for the CSU party, which is close to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Therefore, he said, Israel’s request for arms are being evaluated differently than those from other states in the region.
Germany is one of Jerusalem’s staunchest friends in the diplomatic arena and has been delivering advanced weaponry to Israel. So far, Germany has delivered four advanced Dolphin-Class submarine to Israel’s naval fleet, and Jerusalem is scheduled to receive a fifth later this year.
The new submarines have engines that don’t require surfacing to acquire new air supplies, effectively expanding Israel’s naval (and, reportedly, nuclear) reach and allowing for more distant and long-lasting operations.
In 2012, the German weekly Der Spiegel reported that Israel’s submarine fleet has nuclear capabilities and that Berlin is aware of this, but has opted to publicly remain mum about it in order to avoid having to defend the deals.
The submarines, according to Der Spiegel, are equipped with Israeli-designed Popeye missiles, which can carry a warhead of up to 200 kilograms. The nuclear warheads are produced at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, the report said.
In a 2008 speech in the Knesset, Merkel declared that Israel’s security is part of her country’s “raison d’etat” (Staatsraison in German). Therefore, she vowed, “Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.”
Times of Israel contributed to this report.