BONN (Jan. 31)
A German-French consortium has sold Syria guided missiles worth $240 million, breaching Germany’s stated policy of not selling weapons to “areas of conflict.” The sale came on the heels of an unexpected letter by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to Premier Menachem Begin, calling on Israel to recognize Palestinian self-determination and evacuate all occupied territories. It is likely to place a further damper on German-Israeli relations, according to diplomatic sources.
The deal, which assists Syria’s current buildup of (mainly Soviet) weapons, was closed recently by Euro missile, a Paris-based joint subsidiary of German aircraft manufacturer, Messerschmitt, Boelkow, Blohm (MBB) and France’s Aerospatiale, according to the daily “Sueddeutsche Zeitung.”
The shipment includes a light anti-tank missile, the “Milan,” a heavy anti-tank rocket for long distances, the “HOT” and the “Cormoran” air-to-sea missile. Credit guarantees for MBB’s share of the order (about $100 million) will be provided by three leading German banks, according to the report.
The deal was clinched on the basis of an unexpected Syrian offer to pay for the weapons immediately if the delivery could be speeded up. Some sources believe Saudi Arabia supplied the cash in order to counter Moscow’s influence in Damascus. According to the sources, Syria anticipated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s peace initiative toward Israel and wanted to build up its arsenal as quickly as possible “to strengthen the Syrian option based on military strength.”
“Objective Western observers in Damascus” see the buildup as aimed not at launching a military strike against Israel, but rather as a “policy of deterrence” as practiced by NATO vis-a-vis the Warsaw pact, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.
RATIONALE OF GOVERNMENT
Officially, Bonn government policy bars arms exports to areas of conflict. But the Franco-German combine reportedly sold “Milan” rockets to South Africa in 1975 and “Leopard” tanks manufactured in Italy under German license are said to have found their way to Libya. The official line of the government is to place the burden of these deals on Germany’s overseas partners.
Defense Minister Georg Leber said in a 1975 interview that while the joint arms development contracts stipulated that Paris must consult Bonn before selling arms to areas of conflict, “You must realize, however, that France is in a different position than ourselves.” He stressed, in that connection, that France is more dependent on its arms industry than West Germany for a balance of payments surplus. “However, we have to go along with certain things when we develop arms jointly because it is too expensive to do it alone and the other partner must naturally be allowed a certain amount of freedom.”
MBB would not confirm or deny the reports. It said in an official statement that MBB did not deliver finished weapons but only parts and these were sent exclusively to France for assembly by its partner, Aerospatiale. “The sale exporter is generally Euromissile, but in some cases also the French government.” MBB claimed that it “adheres strictly to the German laws” but conceded that Euromissile exports under French law could “in some cases” cause a conflict with German law.
Government sources said missile exports to France were legal, provided the necessary government export permit was obtained, but once the items were in France, there was no ban on the re-export of the items to third countries.