The German government has often been criticized by the media for its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite the regime's alleged human rights violations, Germany continued to sell arms to the country. When rumors emerged this summer that German officials had bought support for their soccer World Cup in 2006 with "a shipment of rocket-propelled grenades," few actually seemed surprised.
Now, however, some German officials are making headlines for different reasons. Over the weekend, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was quoted as saying: "From Saudi Arabia, Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed. Many Islamist threats come from those communities."
Gabriel acknowledged in his interview with the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that Saudi Arabia is a crucial partner in finding solutions for conflicts in the Middle East, but he emphasized that "we have to make it clear to the Saudis that the times of looking away are gone."
That assumes there had been a time when German officials overlooked Saudi Arabia's human rights violations -- a surprisingly frank assessment by Germany's second-most important politician.
In a statement, the Saudi embassy rebuked Gabriel for his comments. “Like Germany, we are part of the anti-Islamic State coalition and fighting side by side against terror,” the statement read.
Just two days before Gabriel's comments, a dispute erupted over an analysis by Germany's own foreign intelligence service BND, which concluded that Saudi Arabia was a destabilizing force in the region.
"The until now cautious diplomatic stance of the older members of the leadership of the royal family is being replaced with an impulsive policy of intervention," BND's report read. The analysis was particularly critical of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He and King Salman, according to Germany's foreign intelligence service, would like to become the "leaders of the Arab world ... with a strong military component as well as new regional alliances."
Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, was quick to refute the report published by her own intelligence services. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said late last week: "Those who want progress on the pressing issues in the region -- and there are many -- need constructive relations with Saudi Arabia."