BONN (Nov. 4)
The clandestine shipment to Israel of Soviet-built tanks and other military equipment from the stocks of the defunct East German army has become a political issue here.
The opposition Social Democratic Party has demanded the resignation of Defense Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg. He allegedly turned the arms over to the German intelligence service, BND, which arranged to have them sent to its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad.
The “smuggling” operation was exposed a week ago when Hamburg harbor police found the tanks and several containers of military equipment aboard the Israeli freighter Palmach II listed on the manifest as “agricultural equipment.”
According to leaks from a report prepared by Stoltenberg and the head of the BND, Konrad Porzner, the Germans and Israelis have been engaged in under-the-table arms exchanges since 1967, when Israel captured large quantities of Soviet-made equipment from the Arab armies it defeated in the Six-Day War.
The Germans were given access to Israeli-captured Soviet equipment over the years.
On Oct. 8, members of the German and Israeli intelligence agencies inspected the East German equipment to decide what Israel would want for testing and intelligence purposes. The Israelis agreed to bear the shipping costs, and delivery was scheduled between Oct. 23 and 26.
The Hamburg police, not privy to the deal, seized the illicit cargo on the night of Oct. 26.
Until now, there has been no serious criticism of the actual shipment of the materiel to Israel. The anger is over the avoidance of political channels. It has led to demands to tighten control over the Munich-based BND.
Porzner, meanwhile, has offered to resign.
The leaked report said the BND operatives who organized the shipments to Israel thought it unnecessary to involve the political leadership.
A secret government committee for defense matters decided in March to make the former East German equipment available to Israel. The Israelis were not supposed to get battle tanks, but only radar and anti-aircraft systems mounted on armored vehicles.
They were committed to return the equipment after a series of tests to measure its effectiveness and durability.