German lawmakers block deal to lease combat drones from Israel

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German lawmakers from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have blocked a billion-dollar deal to lease advanced Heron-2 drones from Israel, citing the capability of the unmanned aerial vehicles to carry weapons.

The SPD lawmakers blocked the $660-million deal to lease the drones from the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in the budget committee of Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, on Wednesday.

Opposition to the deal started last week after the SPD lawmakers discovered that the drones are capable of being equipped with weapons systems during their visit to the IAI’s industrial compound in Israel.

The party, which is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, is opposed to the notion of using drones for launching airstrikes, stressing that the aircraft should only be used for reconnaissance purposes.

Following their visit to Israel, the SPD lawmakers told Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Friday that they would not approve the deal for this version of Israeli drones.

The German Green Party also welcomed the decision, saying that using such unmanned aerial vehicles is in violation of the international law.

Based on the deal, German drone operators would have been trained on simulators at Israeli air force bases. Moreover, the trained operators would have operated the drones from Israel at the beginning.

Germany has three earlier versions of Heron reconnaissance drone already deployed in Afghanistan. The drones cannot be armed and are used temporarily until the EU develops its own drones by 2025.

During the past two decades, Israel has ordered six submarines from Germany, with the final one set to be delivered in 2018. Tel Aviv says it has decided to buy the three more submarines to renew its submarine fleet.

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