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Germany rewards Saudi Arabia for its 'constructive' Israel stance by lifting arms export ban

Germany had loosened some restrictions on exports to Saudi Arabia in recent years, but a block on the sale of Eurofighter jets remained
In 2018, Germany restricted arms exports to countries involved in the war on Yemen with a complete ban on Saudi Arabia taking effect after killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (AFP)

Germany will be allowing the sale of Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia after lifting more restrictions against arms sales to the kingdom.

Riyadh is looking to acquire 48 fighter jets from Germany after initially purchasing 72 in 2007 at the cost of approximately $5.6 bn. The earlier planes had already been delivered to Saudi Arabia. 

In 2018, Germany restricted arms exports to countries involved in the war on Yemen, with the caveat that certain materials would still be available for export to Saudi Arabia.

But after Jamal Khashoggi, a former columnist for Middle East Eye and The Washington Post, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, a complete ban came into effect. US intelligence services believe the killing was approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, though he denies this.

The war in Ukraine, however, forced Germany to rethink its policy towards the kingdom, a major energy exporter, as Germany cut its reliance on Russian gas. It also had to shift its policy on not exporting weapons to active conflict zones so it could arm Ukraine in its war with Russia. 

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In 2022 and 2023, Germany loosened some of the restrictions on exports to Saudi Arabia, but a block on the sale of Eurofighter jets remained in place.

On Sunday, while on an official visit to Israel, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country would no longer be opposing the sale.

"The world, especially here in the Middle East, has become a completely different place since Oct. 7," Baerbock said about the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel. 

"Saudi Arabia has taken on a constructive position (with) regards to Israel," a German foreign ministry statement said. 

The devastating Israeli war on Gaza has touched the three-month mark since the 7 October attack, when at least 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed, the majority on the first day of the attack, including at least 30 children and 300 women. Over 200 were taken hostage.

Israel then launched a bombing campaign, a ground invasion and a total siege on the Gaza Strip.

Over 22,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, 59,000 have been wounded and more than 7,000 are missing. They are believed to be dead and buried under rubble. The Israeli onslaught has devastated Gaza and pushed it to the brink of humanitarian disaster, with the population facing displacement, diseases, and the risk of famine. 

Since the thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year, Britain has argued that Germany can no longer block the export of Eurofighter jets to third parties. The Eurofighter aircraft is jointly developed by the multinational Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems, and Italy’s Leonardo.

"We do not see the German government opposing British considerations for more Eurofighters for Saudi Arabia," Baerbock told reporters on a trip to Israel.

Britain's BAE Systems struck a deal five years ago for the arms maker to supply 48 of the jets in question, but a third of the components for the jets come from Germany.

A Saudi-led coalition, which included the United Arab Emirates, intervened on behalf of the Yemeni government in March 2015 to push back the Houthis who had seized control of Yemen's capital the year prior. 

Coalition air strikes killed thousands of civilians, according to UN reports, while the Houthis launched missiles and drones at civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Saudi Arabia has faced criticism over its conduct in Yemen, with countries like the US and Germany scrutinising its arms sales to the country over civilian deaths caused by air strikes. 

The United Nations says the death toll from Yemen’s war reached 377,000 by the start of 2022, including those killed as a result of indirect and direct causes.

A UN-brokered truce that ended late last year is still mostly holding, giving long-awaited respite to Yemenis, and has allowed the German government greater justification to lift restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

'Cooperative' Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia played host to a flurry of diplomatic activity before the Israel-Palestine war erupted, with several diplomats saying the kingdom was on the cusp of normalising relations with Israel. During an interview with Fox News that aired in September, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated that the two countries were getting closer to an agreement "every day".

The war has "paused" or postponed any such normalisation agreements, according to US officials. 

Any such deal would build upon the existing "Abraham Accords", agreements between Israel and Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates - which were brokered under the Donald Trump administration.

Riyadh has publicised its diplomatic outreach as one that seeks "to stop the ongoing escalation" of the Israel-Palestine war. But people across the Muslim world have been left disappointed by Saudi Arabia and Arab leaders' inability to halt Israel's war on Gaza. 

While the kingdom has a monarchial system, public opinion plays a factor in the decision-making of Arab leaders, according to analysts

A December poll, conducted by the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Affairs, a pro-Israel think tank based in Washington, found that 96 percent of Saudi nationals believe that Arab countries should cut ties with Israel in response to the war in Gaza, and that the popularity of Hamas has grown significantly amid Israel's devastating military offensive.

The poll highlights large-scale outrage in the Arab world over Israel's military assault on Gaza and found that 87 percent of Saudis believe "Israel is so weak and internally divided that it can be defeated someday". 

Despite what Germany called Saudi Arabia's "cooperative stance" on Israel, the survey found that 40 percent of Saudis expressed positive attitudes towards Hamas, compared to a previous 10 percent, according to another poll carried out months before the war began by the same think tank.

Mass protests have erupted across the Arab world in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. In addition to the demonstrations in the streets, citizens across the Middle East are boycotting Israeli-linked businesses.

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