A preliminary agreement was signed between the German army and the Israel Air Industries (IAI) last Thursday which will see the lease of up to five large Heron TP (Eitan) drone systems. The drones, which will cost a total of 600 million euros, will be sent to Germany and will become operational until 2018.
The German Chief of Staff, General Volker Wieker, who visited Israel a few weeks ago, prefered the Israeli ‘Heron’ drone over its American competitor - the ‘predator’ and the ‘Raptor’ - both of which were created by the CIA and the Pentagon and which are used by the US to eliminate targets from the air.
Eitan drone in action (צילום: חיל האוויר)
According to a German report, what makes this deal particularly interesting is that the drones which will be leased is not only that they can be armed with rockets and bombs in order to attack ground targets, but that hey will be stationed in, and operated from, Israeli territory.
Israel has not confirmed, hitherto, that it has been building drones capable of carrying weapons or that the Israel Air Force (IAF) utilizes such drones during attacks. A previous deal between the IAI and the German army oversaw the transfer of drones explicitly intended for aerial intelligence-gathering missions.
The drones which Germany was leased then, also of the Heron model, were used by the German air force in Afghanistan for intelligence operations. Now, the Germans have set their sights on the giant drones which can carry a load weighing more than one ton. Indeed, the German defense minister indicated as much in January 2016.
Making the drones operational from Israeli territory is intended to circumvent a variety of difficulties which could arise from flight license complications in relation to this model in German air space. Moreover, given Israel’s strategic location in the Middle East and its proximity to Asia, operation from Israel is also in Germany’s strategic interest.