On the subject of arms exports, the German government is reversing its position. The government is seeking permission to ship Eurofighter fighter jets and Iris-T missiles to Saudi Arabia.
At the beginning of October 2018, the German government, which was led by conservatives and Chancellor Angela Merkel, placed restrictions on the shipment of weapons from Germany to Saudi Arabia. This was a reaction to the assassination of writer Jamal Khashoggi, which took place inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as Saudi role in the conflict in Yemen, where a coalition of Arab governments is fighting against the Houthi rebels, supported by Iran and are led by Saudi Arabia. This conflict has resulted in one of the most severe humanitarian disasters that the world has ever seen.
In March 2018, Saudi Arabia announced that it would begin talks with the United Kingdom to purchase at least forty-eight more Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets for the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). The RSAF owns 72 of these aircraft, purchased under a contract signed in 2007.
At the time, Gavin Williamson, the British Defence Minister, praised the significant step towards concluding another deal for Typhoon aircraft, strengthening security in the Middle East and boosting industry and jobs.
However, permission from the three other countries involved in the Eurofighter programme, notably Italy, Spain, and Germany, was still required. Berlin opposed planned weaponry deliveries to Riyadh.
This file has become stuck since then. In July 2023, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the delivery of Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia would be postponed as long as the coalition he heads is in office. That is, until at least 2025.
Scholz told the press on the margins of the NATO summit in Vilnius that there will be no decision on transferring Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia in the foreseeable future.
In actuality, the German coalition government was divided on this subject. While Scholz and his Finance Minister, Christian Lindner, were thought to be supportive of the sale, the Greens and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) were vehemently opposed.
In the absence of new Eurofighter Typhoons, Saudi Arabia turned to France, requesting a price from Dassault Aviation for fifty-four Rafales. The recent visit to Paris by Saudi Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz allowed this topic to move further, in which other factors, such as the future of combat aviation, came into play. Recently, Tokyo declined Riyadh’s involvement in the Global Combat Air Programme [GCAP], which was carried out in collaboration with London and Rome.
Parallely, the aviation sector has been pressuring the German government to rescind its ban on selling Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia. Especially considering there have been no export orders received since Qatar ordered them in 2018.
After a little more than five months have passed, the government that Chancellor Olaf Scholz is currently leading is reevaluating its relationship with the Arab government. During a visit to Jerusalem on January 7, Annalena Baerbock from the Green Party, despite coming from the environmentalist ranks, stated that Saudi Arabia has been providing a substantial contribution to Israel’s security ever since the attack that the Hamas carried out on Israel on October 7. This is helping to contain the threat of the war spreading throughout the region, which is a positive development. Baerbock said, “We do not see ourselves, as the German federal government,” opposing British considerations on other Eurofighters.
Please note that Germany is buying the Arrow Ballistic Missile Defence System from Israel.
It is believed that the German government approved the shipment of 150 IRIS-T guided missiles to Saudi Arabia at the end of December. This information was confirmed by Steffen Hebestreit, a spokeswoman for the government, on January 10.
This means the resolutions of the German coalition government concerning the sale of military weapons have been rendered obsolete by the international situation. This category of exports reached an all-time high in 2023, with Berlin sanctioning 11.71 billion euros worth of armaments exports.
Ninety per cent of these exports were destined for countries that are members of the European Union and NATO and governments that are closely affiliated with these two organisations. The Ukraine, which is currently engaged in a war, was responsible for one-third of the licences issued.
This sum does not consider the sale of 150 air-to-air missiles approved by the Federal Security Council of Germany at the year’s end, which would benefit Saudi Arabia. This means the actual total might be even greater than this statement suggests.
The Saudi Arabian market is often regarded as a significant market for military hardware. It is estimated that the nation spent over $75 billion (€68.5 billion) on weapons in 2022 alone despite consistently ranking low in surveys regarding human rights and democracy.