Germany hesitating on subs sale to Israel

Tuesday, November 18, 2003< /FONT>

LONDON — Germany is balking at an Israeli request for at least two Dolphin-class diesel submarines.

German officials and industry sources said the considerations for the sale will focus on whether Israel would use the submarines for nuclear or strategic strikes against Iran or Arab adversaries. The officials said this has been the growing concern by the Bundestag, or Germany's parliament.

Currently, officials and analysts said, the prospect of an additional Dolphin submarine sale to Israel appears remote. They cite a steady reduction of German arms sales to Israel because of concern that they would be deployed in the war against the Palestinians.

In 2000, Germany completed the delivery of three Dolphin-class submarines, Middle East Newsline reported. Two of the submarines were transferred to Israel for free as part of German compensation for help to Iraq's missile program in the 1980s.

Iraq fired 42 extended-range Scud-class missiles toward Israel during the 1991 Gulf war.

"Politically it would be impossible to justify," Otfried Nassauer, head of the Information Center for Trans-Atlantic Security in Berlin, said. "It would dangerously heat up the Middle East conflict."

Analysts said that Germany sold Israel $900 million worth of defense products between 1998 and 2001. They said Germany is one of Israel's biggest arms suppliers.

The Dolphin submarines underwent modifications at Germany's Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft shipyards. In 1999, the German Defense Ministry said the underwater vessels were outfitted with 650 mm artillery pieces capable of launching the U.S.-origin Harpoon missile.

The Berlin government has allowed HDW to enter technical talks with Israel to prepare for a formal proposal for the Dolphin submarines. The deal is said to involve at least two submarines.

Today, many German parliamentarians and analysts believe that the modifications were meant to fire missiles capable of bearing nuclear warheads. Some of them believe Israel has developed a warhead small enough to fit on conventional missiles.

Israel has discussed with Germany the prospect of procuring another two Diesel-class submarines. Industry sources said Israel hopes that the Dolphins could be manufactured in the United States in an arrangement that would allow the Jewish state to use U.S. military aid to finance the purchase.

A U.S. company, the Chicago-based One Equity Partner, has a major stake in HDW. But One Equity has abandoned efforts to sell HDW to a U.S. company, such as Northrop Grumman, because nobody offered the price demanded by the Chicago firm. HDW posted a loss of 122 million euros in the year that ended on Sept. 30, 2003.

Officials don't expect Germany to reject Israel's request for additional Dolphins. Instead, they expect Germany’s Security Committee, which makes decisions on weapons contracts, to delay such a decision.

"Given the knowledge that the first three boats have been transformed into atomic launching pads, Germany can only answer the request with a clear 'No'," Nassauer said.

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