Lebanese tycoon and UAE firm 'co-building Israeli military vessels'

Lebanese tycoon and UAE firm 'co-building Israeli military vessels'
A Lebanese-French shipbuilding mogul and his Emirati partners have been accused of being connected to the construction of Israeli navy corvettes in Germany, Israeli press reports have revealed.
4 min read
04 December, 2016
During the 2006 conflict, Hizballah was able to disable an Israeli corvette [AFP file photo]
A Franco-Lebanese mogul and his Emirati partners have been accused of being connected to the construction of Israeli navy corvettes in Germany as part of a sub-contracting deal, Israeli press reports have said.

Iskandar Safa, a multi-millionnaire shipbuilder co-owns Abu Dhabi MAR, a major ship builder in the Gulf.

The company operates the docks where the vessels are being assembled, via his Privinvest shipbuilding group based in Beirut.

The other owner is Al Ain International Group, from Abu Dhabi.

The revelations could prove embarrassing to Beirut and Abu Dhabi, as well as Tel Aviv.

Safa - also known by his nickname Sandy during his alleged Lebanese civil war role - was named but subsequently cleared in an investigation into ransom payment to Lebanese paramilitary group Hizballah.

This was said to be in exchange for the release of French hostages during the Lebanese civil war.

Hizballah fought an on-off war with Israel for the past three decades. In the last major conflict between the two - in 2006 - Hizballah fighters disabled a Sa'ar-5 corvette from the same family of the ones being built with a Chinese made anti-ship missile.
Safa (R) with French president Hollande (L) during a visit to Mozambique [AFP]

According to a 2015 report in pro-Hizballah Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, Safa is a relative of current Lebanese Defence Minister Samir Mouqbel.

His name recently came up in the Panama Papers leaks as the alleged owner of offshore accounts. He has since defended his offshore activities as legitimate.

Safa also co-owns Valeurs Actuelles, a French publication that has been described as "Islamophobic".

A total of four Saar 6-class Israeli navy corvettes are under construction in the German shipyard owned by Lebanese and Abu Dhabi-based companies, according to a Sunday report in Israeli daily Hebrew-language Yedioth Ahronoth.

The corvettes

The ships were ordered by Tel Aviv to defend off-shore gas fields which are exploited by Israel and said to be in Palestinian waters.

The order was agreed in a 2015 deal between Israel and German company ThyssenKrupp, which has sub-contracted the work out to German Naval Yards Kiel.

Tgis company was formerly known as Abu Dhabi MAR Kiel, the still Lebanese-Emirati-owned shipyard in Kiel, Germany.

The contract, signed in 2015, is worth $480 million. Under the contract, Germany will provide the Israeli-designed corvettes to the Israel navy, to be delivered over the five years.

It will also finance approximately one-third of the cost of the deal with a special grant of $122 million. The ships are slightly bigger than Israel's current Saar 5 corvettes, the largest ships currently in service with the navy, according to The Times of Israel.

This and other deals with the same Germany company are being investigated by anti-corruption teams in Israel, possibly implicating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

In response to inquiries from Yedioth, German Naval Yards Kiel said it is a secondary contractor of ThyssenKrupp Sea Systems and that it contributes to the engineering of sailing vessels and to their construction in the Kiel shipyards.

The company noted that all contact between the shipyard and Israeli officials was via ThyssenKrupp.

The Arab involvement in the construction of military vessels for Israel could be embarrassing for all sides

Embarrasing revelations

The Arab involvement in the construction of military vessels for Israel could be embarrassing for all sides.

Lebanon continues to be in an official "state of war" with Israel and whose laws prohibit any dealings with Israeli companies.

Lebanon and Israel are also locked in an ongoing dispute over maritime borders, directly affecting the hydrocarbon fields the corvettes are designed to "defend".

At a time when Israel remains isolated in the world - following the 2014 Gaza War and Second Intifada - some "Arab official and private alliances" are continuing.

"This includes Emirati-Lebanese entities, are [paradoxically] helping to strenghen Israel militarily," Samah Idriss, head of Lebanon branch of Boycott Divestment Sanctions [BDS] organisation which advocates the full boycott Israel, told The New Arab.

"The defence of oil and gas resources stolen from the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples is being enabled by Arabs with German assistance," he added.

The UAE does not recognise Israel and does not have official diplomatic or economic ties with Tel Aviv.

However, there have been reports of increasing indirect dealings between the two countries in the past, including trade missions in the UAE.

For its part, the Israel Defence Ministry told Yedioth in a statement that there was an investigation into the alleged Lebanese links.

"Before the contracts were signed, the Director of Security of the Defence Establishment conducted checks with German government officials in order to confirm that no classified material from the project will be transferred to an unauthorised body that has not been approved as such. It is important to note that the German shipyard builds only the body of the ships, all of the systems will be installed in Israel."

The revelation, Yedioth's report added, came on the heels of reports that an Iranian government company owns 4.5 percent of ThyssenKrupp.