The EU: Israel's Faithful Brother in Arms

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A file photo taken on 21 February 2010 shows an Israeli Heron TP surveillance drone, known as the IAI Eitan during a presentation to the media at the Tel Nof Air Force base, south of Tel Aviv. (Photo: AFP - Jonathan Nackstrand)

By: Bruno Jäntti

Published Monday, May 13, 2013

During Israel's latest onslaught against the Gaza Strip in November 2012, a major conference was held in Tel Aviv: the 2nd Israel HLS International Conference. Among the most prominent sponsors of the homeland security event were two of Israel's largest weapons companies, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), both of which cooperate closely with the Israeli military. But the conference also had another grandiosely advertised partner: the European Commission.

As is often the case, this undisguised cooperation between the EU and Israeli military companies went fully unchallenged – let alone noticed – in the European media. Not even the rather conspicuous fact that the EU-sponsored conference occurred simultaneously with Israel's devastating Gaza assault in which Israel used the equipment of both Elbit and IAI.

The same inability, or unwillingness, by the European media to report such collaboration, let alone deplore it, manifested itself even more prominently in January 2009. A day after Israel's 22-day long assault on the Gaza Strip, the leaders of six European states, including the UK, France, and Italy, arrived in Israel for a gala dinner, voicing their support for Israel. The dinner was hosted by Israel's then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. The European leaders vowed, of all things, to stop the flow of arms to Hamas. Meanwhile, the Israeli strikes on Gaza would kill 926 civilians.

As a trading and co-sponsoring partner, Elbit is among the most disagreeable of all the Israeli military companies. Being at the very core of Israel's breaches of international law, Elbit is deeply involved in Israel's drone programs that have targeted and killed scores of civilians, including children. The former president and chief executive of Elbit proclaimed that the company is "the backbone" of Israel's drone operations. Elbit also provides surveillance equipment to the illegal wall Israel has built in the West Bank. Besides being an instrumental partner of the Israeli air force, it is also sells equipment to the Israeli navy.

The EU also funnels funds to Elbit through allocating EU-taxpayers' money to the company under the umbrella of scientific research. Indeed, another barely publicized yet lucrative form of EU-Israeli cooperation that directly benefits Israel's private military sector are scientific research subsidies. David Cronin, who has put together a pioneering compendium on the EU’s complicity in Israel’s illegalities, estimates that by the year 2013, Israel will have received EU research grants for more than €500 million. Israel currently takes part in over 800 schemes with European universities and corporations.

The massive EU-Israel bilateral trade remains one of the least talked about, yet among the most crucial enablers of Israel's ever-continuing breaches of international law.

The EU is Israel's main trading partner with a total annual trade of approximately €30 billion (€29.7 billion in 2012). The volume of the trade is more than ten times that of the US foreign aid to Israel. While it is reasonable to assume that US-Israeli relations will remain intact in the coming years, the EU has the required economical leverage and legal means to exert unprecedented pressure on Israel, compelling it to abide by international law.

According to a 2003 European Commission poll, 60 percent of the EU citizenry sees Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. In this respect, European public opinion is more informed than that in the US. Another factor that makes it feasible for EU to alter its policy towards Israel is that the EU-Israel Association Agreement that governs all trade and cooperation between the EU and Israel states that "[r]elations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.”

Hence, whereas a drastic shift in the US-Israeli relations remains an unlikely scenario, the EU has both the informed public opinion required for, and a no-brainer legal case demanding, relatively swift and highly momentous changes.

As of now, however, the EU is both a major client for Israel's occupation-powered, export-oriented and multi-billion military manufacturing and homeland security sector as well as a major exporter of military equipment to Israel.

Besides the military and homeland security imports from Israel, the EU also continues to violate its own regulations on arms exports. The EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports states that the EU is "DETERMINED [sic] to prevent the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression or contribute to regional instability."

How determined exactly has the EU been in its adherence to this provision? Based on the criteria set out by the EU in the above regulation, Israel is an illegitimate country for arms exports. After all, in addition to violating a whole list of UN resolutions, Israel has been and remains exceptionally committed to violating international law.

Although Israel is an invalid trading partner according to the EU Code of Conduct regulations, the value of licenses granted by the EU over the past decade for arms exports to Israel amounts to billions of Euros.

Whereas 18 of 27 EU member states export military equipment to Israel, the bulk of the total EU exports originate from the major EU states: Italy, France, Germany and the UK, according to Amnesty International’s “Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza.”

In terms of violating EU arms exports regulations, Italy has the most abominable track record. Italy's biggest defense contractor, Finmeccanica, announced in July 2012, that it had won and signed a $1 billion (€752 million) deal with Israel. Finmeccanica will provide training jets to the Israeli air force, which repeatedly carries out egregious attacks against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and infrastructure.

Out of the total €752 million deal, the most sizable part belongs to Finmeccanica's subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi which provides 30 M-346 advanced trainer aircraft to the Israeli air force. It is reported that the Italian government played a major role in brokering the contract.

Another EU member state that carries out large-scale military trade with Israel is France. Between 2003 and 2008, France exported more than €521 million worth of weaponry to Israel.

An Amnesty International report from February 2009 revealed that electrical components made in France were found in the rubble of buildings destroyed by the Israeli military during the 2008-2009 Gaza massacre. The components were installed in Hellfire AGM missiles manufactured by the US company Hellfire Systems, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. France also exported specialized equipment for reconnaissance, such as laser systems, to Israel.

Another major arms exporter to Israel is Germany. Germany sold major conventional weaponry to Israel for more than €580 million between 1996 and 2000, including Dolphin Class Submarines, which are assumed to be capable of launching nuclear warheads. In 2000 alone, German weapons trade with Israel was worth more than €130 million. Germany exported torpedoes, armored cars, and parts for the Israeli Merkava tanks used in occupied Palestine.

The UK also exports considerable amounts of military equipment to Israel. In 2009, after Israel had destroyed the Gaza Strip, the UK authorities granted export licenses for electronic warfare equipment, naval radars, and sniper rifles to Israel. In 2009, the then-Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband revealed that the Israeli equipment used in Israel's murderous and destructive assault against Gaza "almost certainly" contained components that had been delivered by the UK.

In recent years, the UK government has annually licensed arms exports directly to Israel for between €12 million and €36 million. In 2008, UK authorities granted military export licenses for more than €34 million.

Besides these major European powers, one state enjoys exceptional clout as a strict adherent to international law, but has excelled at conducting arms trade with Israel, namely Finland. The total value of the Finnish-Israeli arms trade is €200 million.

In addition to the fact the Finland has conducted more military trade with Israel than a number of much bigger EU member states, what sets Finland apart from all the other arms trading partners of Israel is the severity of domestic criticism the trade has elicited.

A petition signed by more than 250 Finnish dignitaries from the arts, academia, and politics is a telling indicator of the wave of criticism arising from the military trade between Israel and Finland. Among those calling for an immediate discontinuation of all forms of military trade with Israel are the foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja and world-renowned expert on international law Martti Koskenniemi.

It merits emphasis that the continuation and, often the mere existence, of the trade has arguably had no support in the Finnish mainstream media.

As the 2003 European Commission poll already revealed, the ever-continuing business-as-usual attitude by the EU to Israel's actions fully contradicts union public opinion. The freezing of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the seizing of all weapons exports from the EU to Israel – both actions required by EU provisions – could force Israel to finally recognize and respect the rights of the Palestinians.

Bruno Jäntti is an investigative journalist with a focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is the chair of ICAHD Finland (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions).

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

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