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Armaments Collaboration between Germany and Israel - Interview with Otfried Nassauer

AUTHOR:   Seyed Hedayatolla Shahrokny, IRIB

Translated by  Agatha Haun

Iranian radio: The German-Israeli armaments collaboration was concealed from the public for decades, but recently the media have dared to report on it more or less openly, while in the process the public apparently still isn't allowed to know everything. You've dealt with this subject intensively. You confirm my statement in an article. I quote: "Two distinctive features characterize this cooperation: Far-reaching secrecy and mutual benefit." Before we go into this, I would like to ask you  first to inform us about the history of this cooperation.

Otfried Nassauer is a free-lance journalist and director of the Berlin Information Centre for Translatlantic Security / Berliner Informationszentrum fuer Transatlantische Sicherheit (

Nassauer: The history of the German-Israeli cooperation in the armaments area is incredibly complicated. From the beginning, it was encumbered with problems for both sides. Israel could hardly cooperate openly with Germany in front of its own public, while the Germans were, after all, the criminals responsible for the Holocaust and were to blame for the deaths of six million Jews. And conversely, the Germans naturally had problems with their own public, for exactly the same reason, in being connected openly with Israel and armaments collaboration. In spite of that, the joint work on arms projects began at a very early stage, because some politicians, who had an interest in a normal relationship between the two states, also understood arms deliveries as an instrument of cooperation. At that time, in the 1950s, both states had to virtually build up "armies out of nothing" and therefore they had partially overlapping and partially common interests.

Therefore, Germany started supplying arms to Israel already in the years when Germany itself actually wasn't permitted to produce any more weapons at all, as a result of the fact that it had lost the Second World War. In later years the German-Israel collaboration was marked by overlapping interests. For example, in the Near East wars, Israel captured Soviet-style weapons, and the Germans were interested in the results of Israel's analysis of these, and the other way around, the Germans then built the technological knowledge into their armoured vehicles, for example. And these benefits that came from Israel were "paid for" with further supplies from Germany. Israeli weapons deliveries to Germany resulted, because that way, Israel could earn hard currency, convertible currency, and these developments go up to the present time. Until today there is a relatively intensive collaboration between Germany and Israel in the armaments sphere with which many German armaments companies aren't always happy, however.

Iranian radio: Mr. Nassauer, now let's talk some about the two characteristics of the German-Israel armaments cooperation that you mentioned in passing, I mean by that the secrecy and the mutual benefit. Would you please explain these two characteristics and why this collaboration was kept secret?

Nassauer: Keeping the German-Israeli weapons collaboration a secret was naturally closely related to the fact that each government believed that their respective populations couldn't accept this information and therefore they insisted that this secrecy must be particularly strict. That could be seen in the fact that on the Israeli side, as well as on the German side, it was the secret services that coordinated such deliveries. In addition to that, this form of operating led to a further form of secrecy, specifically to a form of secrecy -- they could also conceal other forms of collaboration and financial payments behind the armaments cooperation projects.

This collaboration was beneficial to both sides because in this way Israel could obtain relatively technically modern equipment from Germany, for example, submarines again and again, and on the other hand, Germany also acquired knowledge about Soviet armaments that the Israelis had captured from the Arabic states and analyzed. So in other words: that was never a one-sided affair where only one of the two sides profited, rather there were different kinds of mutual benefits, not the least of which, from the Israeli point of view, was certainly the fact that through its collaboration with Germany, Israel had the chance to earn convertible currency.

Konrad Adenauer and David Ben Gurion met on March 14, 1960, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel  in New York

Iranian radio: What fields are included in this collaboration?

Nassauer: The collaboration includes, next to research and development in every aspect, almost all branches of armaments technology. Not so obviously in the sense that the label "Made in Germany" is visible there outside, as a rule, with respect to the supply of weapons to Israel, but within, in the components, then it is there quite frequently. Thus it includes the items that are supplied by Germany, and that aren't so visible: tank motors, gears, as well as the technology for cannons for the Merkava tank. It includes protective technology for armoured vehicles. Supplies in the naval branch include ship motors. However, one must add, to qualify that, that in technical terms, Germany almost had a worldwide monopoly there on these slow-running ship diesels and Israel was compelled to buy them in Germany. But in the area of navigation, that also includes entire ships. In the area of aviation and aerospace Germany supplies relatively little. That has to do with the fact that Israel mainly buys these in the USA and in part then makes further use of American technologies, for example, in order to be able to make offers to the Germans. Here we could mention, for example, the project which was kept a secret for a long time, for an electronic jamming instrument for the Tornado combat aircraft. Where the German military is concerned, that belongs, for example, to the supplies that Israel transacted, likewise the supplies of munitions that Israel transacted with Germany, and similar items. For the future, there are other elements of the collaboration. Germany is an important partner for Israel, in order to gain access to the EU markets. German companies and Israeli companies market Israeli weapons projects in the Western industrial states, sometimes doing it together, and meanwhile there have been some joint ventures of this kind, and for Israel that's always connected with the opportunity to earn money which it couldn't otherwise so readily earn in the world markets.

Iranian radio: There are reports that Germany helped Israel to build atomic bombs in the 1950s. For example, there's a German journalist by the name of Gabi Weber, living in Argentina, who maintains this, on the basis of research. What do you know about this?

Nassauer: I'm familiar with the documents that are available to Ms. Weber, and I consider it quite probable that in the 1960s, Germany in fact knowingly or unknowingly -- more likely knowingly -- provided assistance, so that Israel could obtain uranium from Argentina, which found its way into the Israeli atomic programme.

Iranian radio: Mr. Nassauer, is this weapons cooperation compatible with the German constitution? Can Germany supply weapons to crisis regions, one of which is the Near East?

Nassauer: This rule that you cite is not to be found either in the German constitution or in the German export guidelines. It is believed that in reality Germany has such a policy. It isn't so. Germany has a policy, though only for the last few years, that says no weapons should be sent to receiving countries where weapons deliveries could lead to an increased level of violence, but that is not legally binding, rather only politically compulsory. It's similar with false statements made by many politicians, to the effect that Germany absolutely doesn't deliver weapons to crisis areas. This criterion is often disregarded by practical politics at the executive level, and for that reason, weapons are supplied to crisis regions. That applies not only to the Near East, but also for countries like India and Pakistan.

German-built Israeli Dolphin-class submarine

Iranian radio: What effects will the German-Israeli armaments collaboration have on developments in the Near East?

Nassauer: The German government supplies arms not only to Israel, but also to Arabic countries. Egypt is at present again one of the receiving countries that certainly acquire some goods from Germany. Earlier, Iran was also one of the countries that could receive a substantial volume of weapons or technology from Germany, and the German side frequently argues in this way: "Okay, if both sides receive something, then perhaps that stabilizes the situation somewhat." Personally, I am very doubtful about that and for many years I've repeatedly called on the German government to apply a restrictive policy toward both sides, thus toward both Israel and toward the Arab or Islamic world.

Iranian radio: What is your view of the prospects for this German-Israeli armaments  cooperation?

Nassauer: As I see it, Israel is making efforts to open up the markets of NATO and EU states increasingly for its own weapons manufactures -- from the financial standpoint, to a great extent Israel lives on weapons exports -- and to start up numerous cooperative projects with the NATO and EU countries, especially in the spheres of advanced technology and research. Israel has made some progress in that area recently. For example, it can participate in European Union projects for security research and also can contribute, and in this respect the attempt is being made to link Israel more closely with the nations of Europe. In that process, Israel has scored quite substantial successes in the sense of its own interests, and naturally, in the meantime it has also been earning a considerable amount of convertible currency by supplying the European Union with weapons. That can't have a particularly stabilizing effect for future developments, at least in the current political circumstances. A restrictive policy would probably be helpful, though a restrictive policy that then conversely also must lead to a similar restrictive policy toward the Arab and Islamic countries in the Near and Middle East.

Source: Rüstungszusammenarbeit zwischen Deutschland und Israel

Original article published on Dec. 3, 2008

Agatha Haunis a member of
Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.

URL of this article on Tlaxcala:

THE LAND OF CANAAN : 25/01/2009