Blockade of Eurofighter Sale to Saudi Arabia Abandoned by German Leaders

Defence Industry

Cologne: German leaders are no longer concerned over a proposed sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoons jets to Saudi Arabia, following the kingdom’s help intercepting Houthi-fired missiles aimed at Israel, according to German media reports.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz January 8 backed up Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s overture from the day prior, the press agency dpa reported, citing a statement to that effect from government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. Baerbock had broached the Eurofighter blockade during a visit to Israel, saying Germany would no longer object to a UK sale of the aircraft.

Germany, as a co-producer of the jets along with the UK, Spain and Italy, can veto Eurofigher sales to countries outside of the core user group. The aircraft are made by a consortium of Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo.

Saudi Arabia already operates a fleet of more than 70 Eurofighters. Saudi officials have said they want more, threatening to buy other fighter types elsewhere if their request goes unfulfilled.

The policy of Germany’s governing coalition — composed of the Social Democratic, the Green and the Free Democratic parties — was to prohibit weapons sales to parties involved in Yemen’s civil war. Saudi Arabia supports the Yemen government in fighting Houthi rebels, who have aligned themselves with Hamas against Israel. Berlin’s blockade was also grounded in human rights violations committed by Riyadh.

The German government’s about-face, which has led to backlash, especially in Baerbock’s Green Party, has its roots in what Scholz and his foreign minister consider Saudi Arabia’s constructive role in averting an expansion of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Baerbock specifically mentioned Riyadh’s use of its Eurofighters in intercepting Houthi missiles and drones aimed at Israel, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Dan Darling, a defence analyst at Forecast International, said he is surprised German leaders changed their tune. “The country has long held a critical view on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and the Saudis already field a large inventory of capable combat aircraft,” Darling said. “But British pressure on Germany to lift its export objections, coupled with a newfound bit of realpolitik in Berlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, appears to have altered the current government’s stance on the matter.”

According to Richard Aboulafia, a managing director with AeroDynamic Advisory who has tracked aircraft programs for more than 30 years, said Berlin’s new approach will alleviate its neighbours’ concerns that future arms cooperation with Germany effectively means most export plans are dead on arrival.

“Given what’s at stake, there’s a good chance of a German policy change here,” Aboulafia said. “Germany’s credibility as an arms program partner is very much in doubt without a change. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest export markets, and given recent developments, Germany’s government certainly has the rationale for a policy change.”

The move would also invigorate the industrial complex behind the Eurofighter, argued Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow for military aerospace at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank.

“German arms export policy has placed it increasingly at odds with defence industrial partners, including those in the Eurofighter consortium,” Barrie said. “In effectively blocking the sale of additional Typhoons to Saudi Arabia, Berlin was also risking damaging its domestic defence aerospace sector as well as hindering other export opportunities.”