It started as a weapons deal secretly approved by the German security council last week to sell 200 battle tanks to Saudi Arabia. But after SPIEGEL reported on the intended sale of the model 2A7+ Leopards, a bitter political battle is now raging in Berlin. And, with Chancellor Angela Merkel refusing to comment on the reported deal, it also threatens to transform into yet another disagreement within her governing coalition.
"It damages the government and it damages Germany when only opposition voices are heard," Rainer Stinner, the foreign policy spokesman for the Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partners, told the daily Rheinische Post. "The chancellor and the ministers involved can no longer simply hide behind the label 'secret.'"
In comments published on Friday in the Bavarian regional daily Mittelbayerische Zeitung, however, Merkel did not indicate that she was prepared to change course. "Consultations and resolutions in the security council are secret for a good reason," she said.
She also insisted that weapons deals are ultimately made public. "Transparency regarding weapons deliveries and defense merchandise is provided in that they can be read about every year in the defense export report, which is also presented to the German parliament," she said.
'Cowardly and Dishonest'
The report for the year 2011 is scheduled for publication more than a year from now.
The opposition in Berlin has spent the week blasting Merkel's government and has requested that approval for the deal be withdrawn. In addition to being equipped for battle, the tanks can also be outfitted with blades useful for clearing crowds and demonstrations. Saudi Arabian troops were instrumental in quelling pro-democracy protests in Bahrain earlier this year. Germany has spent decades turning down Saudi Arabian requests to purchase Leopard tanks due to the potential danger posed to Israel's security. But according to reports in the German media this week, both Israel and the United States provided their blessing for the deal, the exact value of which is unknown but is thought to exceed a billion euros.
Sigmar Gabriel, head of the center-left, opposition Social Democrats, accused Merkel's government of being cowardly and dishonest. Green Party floor leader Jürgen Trittin said that Merkel's coalition "stood at the side of despots." Furthermore, Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele has said he is preparing to challenge the weapons deal on constitutional grounds, a challenge that SPD politician Dieter Wiefelspütz has said he might join. "It is indefensible that parliament was not adequately informed," Wiefelspütz told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
All three opposition parties in parliament have demanded that the government reverse its approval of the deal. The delivery of weapons to a crisis region is not consistent with the political principles of the German government relating to weapons exports, the Green Party's paper reads according to German wire reports. The Bundestag is to address the demands on Friday.
As politically discomfiting as the deal is, Merkel is furious that the information leaked out in the first place. According to SPIEGEL ONLINE sources, Merkel brought up the indiscretion during her weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday. According to participants, Merkel said that she was astonished that such a sensitive piece of information was leaked from a secret committee.
Conservative parliamentary floor leader Volker Kauder sought to calm the situation on Friday in a morning appearance on public television. "If the deal ever comes to fruition, it won't be for the next two or three years," he said.