Opposition Declining to Germany’s Sale of Weapons to Saudi Arabia

Pro-Israel members of the Bundestag are far less optimistic than they were two months ago about blocking the sale of West German tanks and other modern weaponry to Saudi Arabia. They blame Premier Menachem Begin’s bitter personal attacks on Chancellor Helmut Schmidt for diverting attention from the arms deal to German-Israeli relations and say the damage cannot be repaired.

Israeli diplomats here concede that it will be much easier now for the government to overcome opposition to the proposed arms sale to the Saudis. Begin lashed out at Schmidt during his re-election campaign, insinuating that as a Wehrmacht officer in World War II he did the work of the Nazis and that all Germans, even those born after the war, bore responsibility for Nazi crimes against the Jews.

That was Begin’s response to the Bonn government’s plans to sell the highly sophisticated Leopard II tanks and other arms to the Saudis in a multi-million dollar deal. Strong opposition had developed in the Bundestag, particularly among members of the Free Democratic Party, Schmidt’s coalition partner, and the opposition Christian Democrats. Although the Chancellor personally supported the weapons sale, he was unable to make a commitment when he visited Saudi Arabia in May.

Even now, West German sources say the matter is under review and no decision can be expected in the near future. But its supporters are pressing their advantage. One pro-Arab Deputy of Schmidt’s ruling Social Democratic Party suggested last week that the tanks be delivered to Saudi Arabia to give the Arabs the means to oppose the Camp David peace process.

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