Anyone interested in the state of relations between Germany and the United Arab Emirates should follow the Twitter channel of Ambassador Peter Fischer. The German representative in Abu Dhabi really celebrates when the “strategic partnership” with the “friends” in the Emirates has once again reached new heights. When @diplo_peter He praises the “wise words” of this or that sheikh and praises the close economic relations.
Shadowed pages of his host country circumnavigate @diplo_peter diplomatically, as befits his profession. For example, the fact that the military of the Emirates with German weapons technology broke UN sanctions in the East African Eritrea. To do research, the star at the end of February, together with the ARD magazine “Report Munich” and the Dutch research office Lighthouse Reports publicized, the ambassador has so far at least not expressed – as one ducks so far in the led by the SPD politician Heiko Maas Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the best of their ability when it comes to allegations against the regime in Abu Dhabi.
Together with the Swedish TV channel TV 4 and Lighthouse Reports has the star In the framework of the #SwedishArms project, new evidence of embargo breaks has been researched using German technology – in Eritrea. Now the presence of Ghannatha speedboats equipped with German technology in the port of Assab in Eritrea can also be proven. In the East African city, only 60 kilometers from the coast of Yemen, the Emiratis maintain a military base. Since 2015, it has been serving as a base for its war effort in the civil war in Yemen – even though until November 2018 UN sanctions prohibited the importation of military equipment into the East African country.
According to the German Foreign Trade Ordinance, the mere “transit” of armaments by Eritrea was forbidden until March 2019. The reason: The regime in Eritrea was suspected until the end of 2018 to support terrorist groups in neighboring countries.
Speedboats from Sweden, with guns from Rheinmetall
Nevertheless, the speedboats of the Ghannatha type were also used in Assab. They were developed in Sweden by the shipyard Swede Ship Marine AB and mostly manufactured in Abu Dhabi. All 24 ships of this type are powered by engines of the German manufacturer MTU. In addition, according to the manufacturer's instructions and evidently official photos, they carry MLG 27 guns of the German armaments company Rheinmetall in two configurations. Both six ships of almost 24 meters long short version were therefore equipped with the Rheinmetall guns, as evidently all twelve ships of almost 27 meters long version, which also bear the name “Bu Tinah” class.
On the role of the port of Assab in Eritrea had the star and his research partners from the project #GermanArms already reported in late February. With satellite photos could prove that the Navy of the Emirati had repeatedly stationed in Germany built warships of the types Muray Jib and Frankenthal – as well as other ship types, which are equipped with German guns and engines.
The dictatorial regime in Eritrea, which some compare with North Korea, has moved many citizens to emigrate or flee with its repressive policies. But according to UN reports, the United Arab Emirates even provided the country with illegal military aid. In return, the Emiratis were stationed in Assab ships, fighter jets and tanks.
Photos of the naval base on Twitter
Because only rarely foreign visitors arrive in the East African port city, there are only a few recent pictures of Assab. But in early September 2018, the head of government of neighboring Ethiopia visited the place. His then chief of staff Fitsum Arega – today Ambassador to Washington – published on this occasion photos of the port on Twitter. On one of them could the star, TV 4 and Lighthouse now identify two Ghannatha type ships in the short version. The analysis is supported by a satellite photograph dated September 6, 2018 showing two approximately 24-meter-long vessels at the appropriate location in the northeastern corner of the Assab basin – along with two other approximately 27-meter-long vessels, evidently the Long version of the Ghannatha class.
In the same location in the port of Assab, over the years 2017 and 2018, up to four or five ships with characteristics of the Ghannatha class could repeatedly be identified on satellite photos. MTU confirmed on request of the starthat all of the Ghannatha ships delivered by 2015 are equipped with engines from the manufacturer based in Frierdrichshafen. For this purpose, the “corresponding permits based on the strict German and European export laws” were obtained, a spokesman for the parent company Rolls-Royce Power Systems assured.
Rheinmetall as manufacturer of the MLG-27-guns left questions of the star unanswered. At the company's annual general meeting in Berlin at the end of May, company boss Armin Papperger avoided the question of a possible embargo involving Rheinmetall weapons in Eritrea: “The law does not provide for the responsibility of the arms exporter for the final destination,” he said.
Most recently, in 2008 and 2009, the Federal Government granted export licenses for MLG 27 guns for the Emirates. This was confirmed by the Ministry of Economy recently on a request of the Green MEP Katja Keul. In 2009, the shipyard ADSB in Abu Dhabi had won the contract for the construction or conversion of the total of 24 Ghannatha speedboats.
At the same time, the Emiratis received a total of twelve MLG-27 guns from Germany for installation in six Baynunah-class Corvettes, which the country's navy gradually put into service until 2017. Ships of this type can be seen again and again since 2016 on aerial photos from Assab. The latest satellite images from Assab published by Terraserver, which show a ship of the 70-meter-long Baynunah class, date from 25 May 2019.
UN report mentions corvettes with Rheinmetall guns
In January 2017, even a UN Security Council expert report mentioned the presence of this class of ship in the port of Eritrea. But questions about the embargo and the findings of the UN are easily avoided at Heiko Maas' home. In any case, you can hear phrases like these: “Reports from the media are not a sufficient source of information for the Foreign Office.”
In November 2017, however, a UN observer group also officially lamented the “violation of the arms embargo” against Eritrea, which the United Arab Emirates would have caused by establishing the military base. The UN experts also noted an “exchange of military support” between the Emirates and the embargoed country of Eritrea. They cited evidence that the Emiratis had trained Eritrean military pilots.
On questions of the left-wing MPs Sevim Dagdelen played the Foreign Ministry of Heiko Maas down these processes. Yes, the criticism of the UN experts was “taken note of”, recently wrote State Secretary Andreas Michaelis on questions from the deputies. However, it has also been noted, according to Michaelis, that the panel of experts in an earlier report from 2016 still considered that the “transfer of territory” by Eritrea “does not per se constitute an infringement of the sanctions regime”. And the allegations that the Emiratis also provided direct military aid? The government in Berlin supposedly knows better than the United Nations. According to the Foreign Ministry, “there is no evidence that military assets were passed on to Eritrean's armed forces or educational aid was granted in this context,” the State Secretary said.
Actually, the German Foreign Minister sees himself as the champion of a “rule-based” international order. Dagdelen therefore finds it “cynical” to regard the Emirates as a reliable partner for armaments exports despite the embargo. As a member of the UN Security Council, “the Federal Government is thus completely unbelievable in the defense of international law”.
A leaked in April 2019 confidential report of the French military intelligence service DRM from September 2018 had mentioned the Ghannatha speedboats and their presence in the port of Assab: they had been “observed” there. Also the role of ships of the types supplied from Germany Frankenthal and Muray Jib in the Yemen war mentioned the DRM report – likewise the Baynunah corvettes, which are similar to the rocket boats of the built in Germany type Muray jib even military operations “in the coastal area” of the Supported Yemen.
The Federal Government sees the Emirates as a “strategic partner”
Of all this, the diplomats of Heiko Maas allegedly know nothing or little. Even after the star and his research partners from the #GermanArms project had presented evidence for the presence of German-built warships in Assab at the end of February, the Foreign Ministry continued to assert undauntedly that “we have no knowledge that German ships or ships of the Emirati navy from German production in the Eritrean Harbor Assab would have arrived “.
From the point of view of the Federal Government, the United Arab Emirates is still a “strategic partner”. And of course, the country is an important sales market for German industry. The cruel war in Yemen and the violation of the Eritrea embargo have obviously not changed anything from Berlin's point of view. From the point of view of the Federal Ministry of Economics, the sanction break does not even constitute a violation of the final declarations on the basis of which Berlin authorizes the export of military equipment. “The assessment of the compliance of end-use declarations” was “to delimit from the observance of an arms embargo,” it said in early May in the response of led by Peter Altmaier (CDU) authority to a small request of the Greens.
The Green MEP Katja Keul appeared this subtle differentiation somewhat verbatim. Even if the “violation of an arms embargo” does not violate the end-use declaration, it certainly does “against the embargo,” she argued. And that should have consequences from their point of view, Keul said star“When it comes to authorizing arms exports, it has to be a matter of whether or not a recipient country complies with the law, and if it comes to a serious infringement such as an embargo, it must have consequences.”
In fact, in the case of embargo pending, the Altmaier Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (Bafa) actually has to alert the Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz (SPD) to the Zollkriminalamt (ZKA). The ZKA then forwards the case to the relevant prosecutor. Did that happen in Eritrea? At the beginning of March, the Cologne-based authority confirmed that it had questions about the operation, saying that it would “investigate each case on a case-by-case basis.” The fight against embargo breaks was for the ZKA of “highlighted importance”.
What followed from that so far? Not clear. When it comes to inquiries, the Office merely makes it cloudy to refer to the “judicial authorities” of the countries that may be contacted. The star Inquired at three different prosecutor's offices, to which the ZKA could theoretically have turned for investigations – for example against persons responsible in the United Arab Emirates. None of the three knew anything about the process. The Tübingen lawyer and armaments critic is not surprised: “Public prosecutors must be happy to be hunted in such cases,” says Rothbauer, “even though they would have been ex officio obliged to initiate proceedings.”
Prosecutors to hunt? The Customs Criminal Office, for which the fight against embargo breaks is allegedly so important, has obviously not tried that in the case of Eritrea.