Storm over German plan to supply Saudi Arabia with armoured vehicles

Royal Guard patrol cars could be used to crush 'popular dissent' in the Gulf Kingdom

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is reported to be considering a request from Saudi Arabia for the supply of several hundred German-made "Boxer" armoured patrol vehicles which are purpose built to help the military combat rebel forces and could be used to crush popular dissent.

In a report on the proposed arms deal which was leaked to Der Spiegel magazine, it was said that the request was discussed last week at a secret session of Germany's federal security council which had previously given the go ahead for the controversial supply of anti-tank rocket launchers to Israel.

The magazine said the Saudi government had requested the Boxer vehicles for the Saudi Royal Guard – a unit whose role is confined mainly to protecting the Saudi royal family. "The Boxer is roadworthy and suitable for combating uprisings," it noted.

It said that in the event of the "Arab Spring" spreading to Saudi Arabia, the Royal Guard would almost certainly be used to defend the royal family to the last. "Then there would be the possibility of German armoured vehicles being used against the masses," the magazine wrote.

The Boxer is currently used by German forces in Afghanistan as an armoured troop transporter and patrol vehicle. It can also be used as a mini field hospital. The Saudi demand for the vehicles comes on top of a request for the supply of 270 German-built Leopard 2 tanks, which rate as the most sophisticated of their kind in the world.

The Leopard 2 "A7" version Saudi Arabia has requested is specifically designed for use in close combat situations such as house-to-house fighting. The deal could earn the manufacturers, the German arms producer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, up to €2bn.

Krauss-Mafffei is reported to have sent a Leopard 2 "A7" to Saudi Arabia for test purposes in July this year. A German army tank specialist was also sent along to monitor firing tests. However, Ms Merkel's government is reported to have postponed any decision about the Saudi request for both the Leopard 2 tanks and Boxer armoured vehicles until next year.

The supply of German Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia was dismissed as "morally indefensible" by German opposition parties when news of the request emerged last year. Critics pointed out that the Saudi government had helped to crush a popular uprising in Bahrain in 2011. Volker Rühe, a former conservative defence minister, protested that Saudi Arabia needed "far-reaching reforms not weapons".

Germany's federal security council, which Ms Merkel presides over in person, was said to have secretly waived through the supply of anti-tank rocket launchers to Israel after first postponing the idea.

The German manufacturers, Dynamit Nobel Defence, advertise the weapons as being ideal for use over short distances or for firing from inside buildings. "They would be perfect for use against Hamas in the Gaza strip," Der Spiegel wrote.

The security council decided against taking any decision about an Israeli request for anti-tank rocket launchers in June this year because of German Foreign Ministry concerns that they might be used for house-to-house fighting in areas of civilian unrest. However, on Monday their export was agreed because Israel was perceived to be under serious threat from Hamas, Der Spiegel said.

Like all her post-Second World War predecessors, Chancellor Merkel has insisted that for Germany the security of the state of Israel is "not negotiable". Earlier this year the German government was reported to have supplied Israel with submarines capable of being equipped with nuclear warheads.

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