Germany delays decision on Israeli drones, approves warships

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German parliament’s budget committee on Wednesday postponed a decision on a 1-billion-euro ($1.11 billion) funding package for the military, including a deal to lease Israeli-made armed drones, sources told Reuters.

The committee nonetheless approved 11 billion euros of purchases for the armed forces, including five corvette warships for two billion euros.

The Defence Ministry had warned against delays, saying the purchases were urgently needed to modernize an army weakened by years of spending cuts.

Christine Lambrecht, a lawmaker from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), had earlier said that the budget committee would delay a decision on the whole funding package as her party needed more time for consultations.

Defence minister Ursula von der Leyen is eager to get the requests approved before a Sept. 24 general election as delays could further hobble a military trying to rebuild after years of post-Cold War cuts and prepare for added responsibilities.

The SPD are junior coalition partners of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and their Bavaria-based sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

After the postponement, Von der Leyen told ARD television that the procurement of the Israeli drones, favored by the military because they are compatible with models they already own, was still under discussion.

Some SPD lawmakers have reservations about leasing Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) which can be armed and used to protect soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Mali.

The higher court in Duesseldorf in May dismissed a legal challenge by U.S. weapons maker General Atomics to Germany’s plans to lease the drones from rival IAI. But the court this month said it had put the deal on hold again as it considers a complaint by General Atomics against its decision.

Some SPD lawmakers want the budget committee to delay a decision on the deal until a final court decision.

Germany already has three earlier versions of the Heron reconnaissance drone which are deployed in Afghanistan. They are maintained by Airbus and cannot be armed.

Germany is supposed to be taking on added responsibilities within NATO and the European Union. The army is also facing a probe into right-wing radicalism in its ranks.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Joseph Nasr, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Toby Chopra