Germany’s leading business daily, Handelsblatt, reports that Greece has sold 101 Soviet-made BMP-1 armoured infantry combat vehicles to Egypt, which the paper says Berlin is finding hard to explain.
In 1994 Greece received 501 of these tanks, which originally belonged to the army of former communist East Germany.
Egypt is ruled dictatorially by President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, a former director of military Intelligence, a former minister of defence and a former general.
The paper sources its story on a report Greece made last year to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA), which has received such reports from more than 170 states. The agency says the vast majority of official arms transfers are captured by it.
The BMP-1 is rated as a milestone in armament history, was introduced in 1967 with the October parade on Red Square in Moscow and was used in warfare for the first time in the Yom Kippur war fought against Israel from 6 to 25 October 1973 by a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria.
More than 30 armies worldwide still trust in the abilities of the flexibly usable more than 13-tonner that can carry three crew and eight infantry soldiers. Its cannon can fire six shots a minute and it can float. (More here)
In the past the Greek government asked for German permission for making similar deals. But a spokesman in the German defence ministry responsible for the exportation of armament stocks of the German forces says no information is to hand about the matter.
“Whether this transfer required notification can’t be answered promptly because the vehicles had been passed on to Greece 27 years ago,” he said.
“The ministry keeps records on such proceedings for only five years.”
The ministry needed at least three weeks to trace the case and no statement could be made “before early September”.
The opposition in Berlin is sharply critical of the sale of German tanks into a crisis area. Sevim Dagdelen, spokeswoman on foreign relations of the Left Party (Die Linke) demanded: “The federal government must very quickly reveal who waved the arms deal with Egypt through.” She sees the credibility of German foreign policy at risk.
“Should the government know nothing about the case,” Dagdelen went on, “that would be further evidence that it doesn’t bother about where exported arms end up.”
I first noticed the story on a widely criticised internet blog, MMnews, run by finance expert Michael Ross. Fellow journalists have described him as an anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist. He has published widely on German and international television networks, in print media and in several books.
Wars are fought for interests. Follow the money
Two things have lately swirled more and more around my 80-year-old journalistic head.
No. 1: The 1960s statement by my high school principal-cum-history-teacher:
“Wars are not fought for principles, wars are fought for interests”. That follow-the-money admonition should be scripture to every journalist covering/analysing any conflict, from divorce to war.
No. 2: What an enormous help the Internet is in digging for the bigger picture. What now takes a couple of hours to accomplish, would in the pre-Internet days have taken a team of journos days to phone up, travel to, interview, write and double-check.
So here’s my quick guide to the Internet-sourced big picture about the BMP-1 war machine Greece sold to Egypt in September 2016.
Turkish journalist Nabi Yücel sees both Greece and Germany breaking the arms embargo on Libya. Libya? What’s Libya got to do with it? Mr Yücel and others see Egypt using those high fire power machines in Libya to counter Turkey’s involvement there.
Some of us may have remembered vaguely something about Egypt – Libya’s neighbour – also getting involved in the civil war there, fought among other things over (follow the money!) control of oil wells. Thank you, Google, for this: “On 20 July Egyptian legislators authorised sending combat troops to Libya, where Cairo’s ally Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is on the defensive.”
And more from the Internet site of the independent non-governmental group, The International Crisis Group:
“Following Turkey’s intervention on the Tripoli government’s behalf, Egypt’s involvement could escalate the war dramatically. All parties should seek a compromise. … Egypt’s threat to send its army into neighbouring Libya is a predictable and understandable but dangerous response to Turkey’s deepening military involvement that risks embroiling both countries in a costly war.”
Crisis Group was founded in 1995 by prominent statesmen “who despaired at the international community’s failure to anticipate and respond effectively to the tragedies of Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia”. It aims “to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world” and “to serve as the world’s eyes and ears for impending conflicts, and with a highly influential board that could mobilise effective action from global policymakers”.
On the Libyan conflict it adds: “With each new intensification of the conflict, the opportunity for compromise seems ever more remote, while the risk of a larger regional war looks ever greater. If there still is a chance to reverse course, regional actors should jointly take it – now – or find themselves mired in an endless regional confrontation.”
If you want the big picture on the BMP-1 and the involvement of Greece, Germany, Turkey and Egypt look up The International Crisis Group and keep that address handy for other conflicts. Thank you, Internet!
Back to Turkish journalist Nabi Yücel and his take on the Greco-Turkish confrontation over gas and oil in the Mediterranean (follow the money!).
He argues that France is siding so conspicuously (my words) with Greece because it’s trying to sell Greece BELH@RRA-class frigates, as are the Americans. “Athens has entered into renewed negotiations about the purchase of frigates of the new class,” Mr Yücel writes.
“It appears that this time the French are offering the Greeks a bargain-basement price.
The Greeks have a much smaller and obsolete fleet than the Turks in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, whereas the Turks have modernised theirs into a powerful navy.”
And guess who’s helping Turkey with that? “Currently by far the biggest armaments project [between Germany and Turkey] is the assembly in Turkey of six Class 214 submarines with major participation by Kiel based ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. The German government approved the delivery of parts in 2009 and insured the export to the value of 2.49 billion euros.”
Nabi Yücel: “That means Paris is holding all the trump cards to sell arms to Athens for lots of money to spend on ships that will reach Greek navy bases in a few years from now. To sweeten the deal it helps the seller to point to the usefulness of the purchase and at the same time to the unexpected help against the ‘aggressor’ Turkey.
“The problem is that Washington is also trying to strong-arm Athens into buying American frigates. So now two mighty sellers are eyeing each other off to help – or pretend to help – a buyer with his back to the wall.”
Just to jog your memory: Greece, Turkey, France and Germany are members of the 30-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to which they have sworn that an attack on one will be treated as an attack on all. (Figure that one out!)
Happy rendezvousing in the Mediterranean and in Libya! “Wars are fought for interests” – thanks Principal Bill Lohe – and thanks to the inventors of the Internet, despite all its evil sides.
By a Neos Kosmos reader in Germany