Elsa Rassabach reports:

German parliamentarians of the CDU, CSU and SPD decided yesterday (June 13, 2018) to approve leasing Israeli Heron TP drones that can carry weapons. The opposition parties (Left, Green and the right-wing Alternative for Germany) opposed the leasing.

Per the majority decision of the Budget Committee yesterday afternoon, the Heron TP drones may at this time be used only for reconnaissance like the Heron 1 non-weaponizable surveillance drones that Germany has deployed in Afghanistan since 2010 and in Mali since 2014. (Since 2010 German pilots have been trained in Israel to use the IAI Heron drones, working closely with the leasing contractor Airbus, the German-French weapons manufacturer that also has the contract to develop and build a “Eurodrone" by 2025).

Yesterday the SPD parliamentarians basically stuck with the position they took a year ago: a) refusing weapons for the drones until after a full investigation of the implications of weaponizing them, and b) allowing use of weaponizable drones but for reconnaissance purposes only.

The formal agreement of yesterday between CDU, CSU and SPD regarding lease of the Heron TP drones states:
1) no munition may be purchased;
2) there can be no training regarding use of weapons;
3) Both 1) and 2) could be reversed following hearings, parliamentary debate and vote about whether and under what conditions the German-Israeli drones could be weaponized.

The hearings would not take place until the German Defense Ministry formally requests to purchase weapons for the drones. As we want to keep the weapons off the drones, we hope such a request will not come soon. We need to be prepared that the hearings could happen soon or not for years.

You in the US helped immensely on our extensive lobbying and letter-writing campaign over the past weeks to try to persuade parliamentarians that the hearings, debate and vote about ever weaponizing the drones must be carried out BEFORE weaponizable drones are leased. We asked the SPD to further delay the decision to lease as they did in June 2017. Our position was supported by some leading German media and NGOs. It was widely supported by SPD members and by many SPD parliamentarians, but they did not prevail within the SPD. Unfortunately, they went ahead to lease the weaponizable drones without requiring that the hearings first be held.

We met with a leading SPD parliamentarian in the Defense Committee yesterday, and he emphasized how important the hearings are to the SPD: they must be public, held in the full parliament, and televised.  There may be regional debates as well.

These would be the first parliamentary hearings ever held in any NATO member country to critically explore use of weapons on drones — an historic first. We need to keep up the dialogue and pressure to try to ensure that the hearings are significant and fully investigate all significant issues re: armed drones.


The SPD parliamentarian yesterday mentioned the many letters from the USA. Your letters were thoughtful, compelling and brought many new and unique insights based on US experience.  They provide a good basis to request (as we do in all meetings with German parliamentarians) that US and UK drone experts, whistleblowers, and also drone victims, medical doctors and legal experts be among the witnesses called to testify in any hearings regarding weaponizing drones.

It would be great if your letters could be posted online.  This would be an important resource going forward to build for effective hearings. 

In solidarity,
Elsa from Berlin

Here are press reports about yesterday's decision:

Why an Israeli drone? See this:

Commentaries on the German decision and a link to all the letters that were written to the parliamentarians will appear in the next issue of this bulletin.