Weapons for Israel (II)

Berlin is set to authorise the supply of 10,000 rounds of ammunition to Israel. German support for Israel in the genocide case before the ICJ is sharply criticised in the Global South.

BERLIN/TEL AVIV (own report) - The German government is about to authorise new arms exports to Israel. Reports indicate that it has already decided to green-light the export of 10,000 rounds of 120-millimetre precision guided ammunition to the Israeli military. The only aspect still under discussion is the price. These shells are apparently being fired in very large numbers in the Gaza Strip. In December, the US administration had already approved the supply of almost 14,000 rounds of the same calibre, in a procedure that bypassed Congress. Last year Berlin approved a delivery of 3,000 portable anti-tank weapons and 500,000 ammunition rounds for semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms. German munition is flowing into war zone at the same time as Israel is having to defend itself before the International Court of Justice against the charge of genocide in Gaza. Berlin now wants to intervene in the main court proceedings as a third party and present arguments in support of Israel. If the International Court of Justice finds in favour of the South African plaintiffs, Germany would be doing nothing less than aiding and abetting genocide by supplying lethal arms.

Anti-tank weapons and ammunition

Last year, the German government had already authorised the export of armaments to Israel valued at 326.5 million euros, putting Israel in seventh place on the list of German arms customers worldwide. Most of the export licences were granted in the wake of the Hamas massacre on 7 October. Berlin authorised the export of 3,000 portable anti-tank weapons and 500,000 rounds of ammunition for semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms, as well as 239 fuses and 44 propellants. Green-lighted for shipment to Israel, these consignments alone amount to 20.1 million euros. Most of the 2023 export licences were granted for land vehicles and for maintenance and repair. In addition, the cabinet committee on arms issues, the Federal Security Council, authorised at the end of last year the export of what is now the sixth German submarine for the Israeli navy – a move that had already been agreed in principle back in 2006. Its delivery is said to be “imminent”.[1] Reports on this vessel have noted that the turret of the new submarine is longer and wider than usual, which experts say will make it capable of accommodating missile systems that can carry nuclear warheads.

“An emergency”

The German government is currently preparing additional supplies of tank ammunition. This is a consignment of some 10,000 rounds of 120-millimetre precision-guided ammunition, manufactured by the Düsseldorf-based armaments company Rheinmetall.[2] These shells are apparently now in short supply in Israel. For its part, the United States had already arranged for delivery of almost 14,000 rounds of this ammunition in December, worth around 106.5 million dollars.[3] The Biden administration was able to bypass Congress by approving the export by special permit in response to Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that an “emergency exists that requires the immediate sale”. Berlin reportedly received a corresponding request back in November. After deliberations the government has, it is said, agreed to comply with the request. The decision-making was particularly awkward because Ukraine also needs 120-millimetre ammunition and the German arms industry has long ago depleted its stocks. This is why Israel’s needs are to be met from the Bundeswehr’s own stockpiles. German stocks could, it is claimed, be replenished within six to eight months [4] – unless, of course, the entire quantity from new production is sent to Ukraine.

Genocide case against Israel in The Hague

Official authorisation of Germany’s latest arms exports to Israel is apparently imminent. Yet it comes at a time when Israel is having to defend itself before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague against the charge, filed by South Africa, that its warfare in the Gaza Strip constitutes genocide. In the heated international public debate on the Gaza onslaught there are only a few states ready to defend Israel against the accusation genocide. These are above all the US, Canada, the UK, Guatemala and Germany. The German government “firmly and expressly rejects the accusation of genocide”, as the government’s official spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit, declared on Friday last week. “There is no basis whatsoever for genocide accusations,” he claimed. The indictment amounted to “political instrumentalisation” of international law and the ICJ.[5] Berlin would therefore take special steps: “The German government intends to intervene as a third party in the main proceedings.” Beyond the sphere of Europe and North America, however, there is widespread support for South Africa’s legal initiative. It comes not only from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) but also from countries in other parts of the world. In Brazil, for example, the government has spoken of its hope that the charges levelled against Israel would make Israel “immediately cease all actions and measures that might constitute genocide”.[6]

Criticism of Germany

Hage Geingob, the President of Namibia, a country in which the German Reich, in 1904, committed the first genocide of the 20th century, sharply criticised the German decision to intervene on behalf of Israel as a third party in the ICJ proceedings. Geingob expressed his “deep concern” over the “shocking decision” of the German government which had "rejected the morally upright indictment” brought forward by South Africa.[7] “Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations Convention against Genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, while supporting the equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza,” Geingob argued. He appealed to the German government to reconsider that move: “No peace-loving human being can ignore the carnage waged against Palestinians in Gaza.” The Global South has also been particularly outraged by the German government’s bald statement that the genocide accusation has “no basis whatsoever” and that international law is being politically instrumentalised. South Africa has made a detailed and factual case, avoiding political substantiation in its carefully worded petition for the application of genocide convention. The ICJ, not the German government, will decide whether this indictment has merit.

The Global South is moving

According to analyst Sholto Byrnes, the dispute over the South African complaint before the ICJ is essentially a conflict between former colonial powers, which now support Israel, and former colonies, which largely back the Palestinians and South Africa. The former colonialists have acted recklessly in their support for Israel, Byrnes argues, while the former colonised “see similarities between how the Palestinians are being, and have been, treated and their own histories of colonisation.”[8] However, the world is changing, he writes: “Power is shifting inexorably away from the colonisers and towards the former colonised.” Indeed, “The latter simply aren’t prepared to stand for what they view as the outrageous double standards of the colonisers anymore.” Byrnes quotes the veteran Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi, who recently observed, “The Global South is moving.”


[1] Deutsche Waffen für 20 Millionen Euro an Israel in 2023. zeit.de 17.01.2024.

[2] Matthias Gebauer, Christoph Schult, Gerald Traufetter: Bundesregierung prüft Lieferung von Panzermunition an Israel. spiegel.de 16.01.2024.

[3] Matthew Lee: The State Department approves the sale of tank ammunition to Israel in a deal that bypasses Congress. apnews.com 09.12.2023.

[4] Matthias Gebauer, Christoph Schult, Gerald Traufetter: Bundesregierung prüft Lieferung von Panzermunition an Israel. spiegel.de 16.01.2024.

[5] Erklärung der Bundesregierung zur Verhandlung am Internationalen Gerichtshof. bundesregierung.de 12.01.2024.

[6] Völkermord-Vorwurf gegen Israel: Wie steht die Welt zu den Vorwürfen? de.euronews.com 15.01.2024.

[7] Namibia slams former colonial ruler Germany for defending Israel in ICJ genocide case. newarab.com 14.01.2024.

[8] Sholto Byrnes is a former British journalist who was elected to the Royal Society of Arts in 2009, worked for the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, and now writes for the Emirati daily newspaper The National from Kuala Lumpur, See: South Africa’s case against Israel has exposed post-colonial fissures around the world. thenationalnews.com 17.01.2024.