German Panzers Return to the Desert


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Probably not since the Second World War will the world witness the appearance of so many German battle tanks in a desert setting. But instead of the descendants of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, the tanks will be manned by Saudi military personnel.

That’s because Saudi Arabia will soon become the proud owners of up to 200 German Leopard tanks when the recent $2.5 billion deal negotiated with the German government is finalised. The Leopards the Saudis will receive are the latest model (2A7+) in the German arsenal and the best that country’s robust armaments industry can produce.

The German tank purchase is just part of the $60 billion the Saudi Arabian government has spent on an impressive array of weaponry the past couple of years. The United States has also contributed to this Saudi military build up, as the desert kingdom seeks to protect itself from what it perceives as a threat from Iran. Last year, the Saudi military bought 84 US F-15E two-seater warplanes, a special version, at about $100 million per aircraft.

Getting their hands on the German Leopard has always been a long-held, Saudi desire.  In past years, the German government had always turned down Saudi requests to purchase the tank, as they could pose a danger to Israel.

“The Saudis have been asking for Leopards for quite a long, long time and the Germans keep saying no,” said Nick Brown, editor in chief of Jane’s International Defense Review, in the New York Times.

For its part, Israel has been noticeable for its silence on the sale. In the past, Israel has protested similar arms deliveries to the Saudis or issued cautionary warnings. The German publication Der Spiegel, which broke the story, said the deal was actually cleared by both Israel and the United States before Germany would proceed. For the United States, the long-desired tank sale could also be serving as means “to placate the Saudis,” who were furious when President Obama withdrew his support for Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, allowing a long-time ally to fall.

The probable reason for the lack of Israeli objections to the Leopard purchase is that Israel has become a silent associate of Saudi Arabia’s against the looming Iranian threat to both countries. In Israel’s view, any weapon that strengthens the Saudi kingdom and does not jeopardise Israeli security, such as 200 modern German tanks, also indirectly adds to its strength in regard to the Iranian danger. Besides, the Saudis have never represented a direct military threat to Israel, having taken only a very limited role in the Arab wars against her.

Besides opening a new market for German arms sales, the Leopard deal also illustrates the major player in the international armaments market Germany has become. For ten years after the Second World War, Germany was not allowed to make any weapons. Now, it is the third largest exporter of arms in the world after the United States and Russia, employing 80,000 workers in its armaments industry.

But the irony of the situation is that as it makes other nations stronger with its high-quality weapons, Germany itself is becoming militarily weaker and less valuable as an American and NATO ally. Last year, Germany announced defense cuts of up to $11.3 billion that would see “massive reductions in personnel.”

The hardest hit will be the German air force. It will lose 54 percent of its 185 Tornado warplanes and see the remaining order for 37 Eurofighters cancelled. The navy will lose eight frigates and ten patrol boats. The number of German sailors had already been reduced to 17,000, and another 6,000 to 11,000 may still be cut. By contrast France, with a smaller population, has “42,000 active personnel and the U.S. Navy 453,000.”

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  • Samatha

    This article totally ignores the possibility that Russia and now China are a joint threat to Europe. The wishful and naive thinking of the author is apparent in the statement that "the Saudis have never represented a direct military threat to Israel". Won't the stupid world be shocked when Saudi Arabia, armed to the teeth with the excuse that it has to fight Iran, joins forces with Iran against Israel.

    • eurxe

      The prospect of the Suni Saudis joining up with the Shiayts from Iran come from the land of imagination. Both sides would reather live under jewish control than co-operate with each other.

    • craig

      I was thinking the exact same thing Samantha. I see it coming as sure as the morning sun.

  • SHmuelHaLevi

    It is likely that Iran would keep the Saudis busy and Israel can handle the Leopards.
    Technically in todays warfare terms, battle tanks cannot compete with aircraft, drones and rockets.
    The F-15E's in the other hand are credible threats.
    Israel has now economic instruments in the form of resources that will change many plans and I would suggest to Iran to consider carefully the developing realities.

  • Bart Simpson

    Let us not forget that the USA is by far the world's largest "purveyor of violence", having sold over $80 billion in arms in 2010 alone. How hypocritcal – that much ado is made about the Germans selling tanks to the Saudis, while the USA actively pushes armaments to every country in the world ! The Americans constantly "decry" anyone else's sales, but justify their own as "defensive" and "sales to our partners". What a sad joke !

    • palidin 911

      Yo Bart Who is making "much ado" about the sale of these tanks to the Saudis? The only "much ado" I see here, is you whining about the the US's arms sales.

      I bet if Homer worked for a defense contractors plant, you would not have that much to say.

    • Homer Simpson

      Hey Bart, my take on the article is that there has been a dramatic shift in the sale of arms to the Saudi's by the Germans, and that the German military is declining as their exports of top notch equipment is increasing. You must be looking for something there, eh?

    • Supreme_Galooty

      I know Bart Simpson. Bart Simpson is a friend of mine. You, however, are not Bart Simpson. You a a cheap imposter engaging in a cheap and tawdry attempt at character assassination by mouthing inanities that the Bart Simpson I know and love would NEVER say.

      Don't I hear your mommy calling?

    • coyote3

      The Leopard is a superior, if not the best, tank out there. Even when compared to our own. That said, of course we woul decry others arms sales. We are in competition for a market. That is just it, we don't "push" we market. What is wrong with selling arms? Believe it or not, that is one of the few bright spots during this depression, and we are getting the benefit of a lot of it.

    • lrivero

      Bart,
      Are you from Canadia?

  • tanstaafl

    It's never a good idea to give sociopaths weapons.

  • DogWithoutSlippers

    The SA mountains of petro dollars being put to use to give
    more power to the corrupt and evil Saudi royal family!

  • Supreme_Galooty

    Saudi Arabs are vicious, terrifying warriors … if your back is turned to them. The Supreme Galooty, and presumably the grown-ups in Israel, would be much more worried if someone were selling those jolly Musselmen large passenger aircraft.

    • lrivero

      The Saudis … "Vicious terrifying warriors"????? Not the Saudi military – incompetent, illiterate, unqualified, immature, whining spoiled brats who can't even tie their boot laces. Israel has nothing to fear from the Saudi military. I spent years as a trainer with the Saudi military. Idiots.

  • ger reader

    The Saudis simply are afraid of the Ayatollahs, and for a good reason. So in this very special case I say: Sell them even more, it’s a way to get some money back from the evil kingdom and the tanks won’t safe them from Iran, that’s for sure.

  • Koldo

    Interesting to see the differences of this article, and the one in Spiegel which we all know belongs to a jewish family and therefore condems the sale.
    What it’s a fact is that German technology, is back and surpassing every other competitor.

  • Piera Prister

    King Abdullah of Arabia paradoxally said to President Obama: " Cut the head of the snake" referring to the mullah regime of Teheran, while the American President was turning a blind eye on the 2009 Iranian Revolution that was repressed in blood, torture and rape. Let's remember Neda.
    Now that odious regime is disconnecting the Iranian cyber space from the rest of the world and the National Guard -that is a branch of Iranian Security Forces- is hiring an army of 250.000 computer hackers to put Internet under control as we read on the WSJ. The Israeli Airforce could exploit the possibility of safely flying over the Saudi corridor to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites since the King Abdullah himself gave Israel the permission. Nuclear Iran is a serious threat to the world and Israel is on high alert and could become "a silent associate of Saudi Arabia".

  • skulldiggerin

    Israel will soon be the owner of all these Boche-built armaments,
    when the Islamic Arabs decide to attack Israel at the time the
    "Palestinian" squatterrorists unilaterally deklare statehood, hoping
    to pull a Nakba on Israel.
    They will be nyeted for their pains. But many, many will get their Virgin
    Of Nuremberg (one is more than engnouf to accommodate all Islamics,
    profet inkluded)
    Like 2 mafiosi who hate each other, Kom(where is buried the scumfilth
    Khomeini) & Mecca whatever their mutual hatred have one common goal
    which is the destruction of Israel.
    The Tehran regime is getting more & more cozy with Al-Keida and the
    difference between between Sunni & Shiite is not in their stench.
    They're both Islamic & Islam is filth.
    Let them all howl “AllahalakB000000mmmm ! “

  • Piera Prister

    The Power of Pictures
    The picture eloquently posted by Stephen Brown -featuring German panzers in the desert- is really scary and at the same time it is a reminder of the past which is coming back and it is still impending.
    It visualizes the inheritance Hitler left to us from hell since he signed the malignant alliance with Amin Al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, the uncle of Arafat and "the father" of current Jihad. Only a few know that muslim soldiers were recruited by Hitler after his invasion of USSR. They fought in Europe under the nazi insignia and Husseini himself, broadcasting from radio Berlin, incited the listeners to kill the Jews, whenever and wherever they were, quoting a passage from the Koran. Now Islael is ready to seize the moment, as the time left is running out, since Khamenei and Ahmedinejad are completing their nuclear arsenal. Let Israel associate with the Saudis!
    Actually, isn't true that my enemy's foe is my friend? This is a vital question, indeed!

  • craig

    I will not be surprised if Israel doesn't turn the Iranian desert into a sea of glass very soon. America be damned as the gutless leadership here has sided with the muslim world. Israel will protect itself and God and Magog will be defeated.

  • davod

    "This article totally ignores the possibility that Russia and now China are a joint threat to Europe."_

    Russia does not need military force to subjigate Europe, just withold gas supplies..

    • Dan

      Absolutely right !!