From March 2017, satellite pictures also show a Frankenthal vessel in the harbor of Assab. Two of these German-built minesweepers were first used by the German navy and, in 2006, sold on to the Emirates. Moreover, a video published by Al Jazeera in October 2017 shows a few seconds of grainy footage of a wrecked boat. In the background, a grey vessel is creeping along the horizon.
The investigation team identified it as a Frankenthal vessel and managed to map its exact co-ordinates in the Yemeni harbour of Mokha. The port faces Assab across the strait of Bab Al Mandab. Shortly before the video was shot, coalition forces had taken control of Mokha.
In September 2018, the German government approved the export of warheads for military vessels to the Emirates that may well end up in the Yemen war, too.
German components in the air
In the air war, too, German technology is playing an important, possibly even decisive role: The Saudi Air Force is comprised of fighter jets it acquired from the U.S. and Europe, including the Panavia Tornado, built by a German, British and Italian consortium.
Many of the Tornado's components, including the center fuselage, fuel system and the engine, are German-made. While its production was phased out in 2007, Tornados and its successor model, the Eurofighter Typhoon, make up a large part of Saudi Arabia's combat jets.
The German export guidelines are clear that the government should object if components for arms are clearly destined for countries involved in active warfare. Despite the British government admitting in late December 2016 that the Saudi air force was operating UK-supplied Typhoons and Tornados in Yemen, Germany has continued to supply Riyadh with components via the UK. "Germany may not sell fully-fledged fighter bombers. But by selling parts that are essential to the operation of these weapons, Germany has a responsibility to make sure that these weapons are not misused," HRW's Roth maintains. "It can't just ignore its responsibilities."
Until now, there has been no verified evidence of Saudi Tornados flying over Yemen. But DW and its partners found a video published in January 2018 in which two men with turbans and rifles on their shoulders dance around the wreckage of what appears to be a downed aircraft. The video was produced by "Yemen Wrath", a self-declared, pro-Houthi social media site. Later, the footage zooms in on what the team has identified as a wing of a Panavia Tornado.
Assuming that the video was shot at the actual site, the team was able to locate the exact location of the crash in Al Souh Valley in an area called Ketaf in Yemen. The research is corroborated by media reports from the same time, which refer to Houthi fighters claiming to have shot down a Tornado. The same reports go on to quote the Saudi-led coalition as referring to a combat jet crashing following "technical failure".
This was followed by an "exclusive" feature story by Saudi-based Arab News detailing the rescue mission mounted to extract the pilot, which, the reporter gushes, "tested the bravery and professionalism of the RSAF personnel to the limits." He goes on to write about how the "crewmen were flying their Tornado jet on a combat mission as part of the Arab coalition fighting Houthi rebels."
And, what is more, the Saudi Air Force uses a refuelling jet, a huge, grey plane that can refuel other aircraft mid-air, thereby allowing for longer combat and bombing missions: the Airbus A330 MRTT, a military spin-off of the civilian A330 airliner built by Airbus, a multinational European consortium. The aircraft contains several important German-made components. In the past, Saudi Arabia ordered six of them; the UAE three.
The research team was able to verify a video posted by the Twitter account @MbKS15, an account that appears to be linked to the Saudi air force: the short, shaky clip, seemingly taken from within the MRTT, claims to show the refuelling of a Saudi typhoon jet from the 10th Squadron. An analysis of the footage found that it was indeed most likely shot close to the border with Yemen.
Government: 'No information' about an end-use violation
When confronted with the team's findings, the German government declined to comment on specific questions concerning the use of individual weapons systems in Yemen. The foreign ministry claimed to "have no information about a violation of the end-user agreement" of arms exported to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The weapons manufacturers contacted by the research team claimed to be following German rules and regulations. Neither the Saudi nor Emirati embassy in Berlin responded to written questions.
As the war continues from the air, land and sea, human rights activists are pleading with Western governments.
"I am calling on all Western countries to stop selling weapons to Saudi and the Emirates," Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate, told DW and its research partners. She said the war will not stop "if Germany or any other country continues selling weapons to Saudi (Arabia) and the UAE."
But that, it seems, is not what the German government is planning to do. Rather, by all accounts, Germany is working to loosen its arms export control rules to make it easier to continue with joint weapons projects with France, according to a leaked internal strategy paper.
Nina Werkhauser & Naomi Conrad
© Deutsche Welle 2019