The EU’s support for Israel makes it complicit in genocide | Opinions

It has been nine months since the start of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, which has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, injured more than 86,000, and displaced more than 1.9 million. Despite frequent words of condemnation, European leaders have done little to stop it. Worse still, many European countries continue to stand by Israel economically and militarily.

As the United States is considered the biggest backer of the Israeli war machine, it is easy to discount European support. A closer look at the extent of European financial and military assistance for Israel, however, lays bare the EU’s complicity in the continuing genocide in Gaza and various atrocities in the occupied West Bank.

Supplying arms used for genocide

The EU is the second-largest arms supplier to Israel after the US. According to figures from the European External Action Service’s COARM database, between 2018 and 2022, EU member states sold arms worth 1.76 billion euros ($1.9bn) to Israel.

Arms have continued to flow from EU countries to Israel even after the International Court of Justice made an interim ruling in January that the Israeli army was plausibly committing genocide. The EU has a system in place to implement arms embargoes but has refused to apply to Israel, leaving member states to slowly implement measures under pressure from civil society with scant political will to do so and falling far short of what is required.

Some EU countries including Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Belgium’s Wallonia region, have announced that they would suspend arms transfers to Israel, but some of these statements were not followed up with timely concrete actions, or when they were, these amounted to temporary or partial arms transfer suspensions, which fell far short of a full arms embargo on Israel.

According to SIPRI, Germany is by far the largest European supplier, providing Israel with 30 percent of its weapons between 2019 and 2023. Exports increased tenfold last year from 32.3 million euros ($35m) to 326.5 million euros ($354m) with the majority of licences granted after October 7.

According to EU data, between 2018 and 2022 there were other large European suppliers to Israel. These included Romania which issued export licences worth 314.9 million euro, Italy – with 90.30 million euros ($98m), the Czech Republic – with 81.55 million euros ($88.3m) and Spain – with 62.9 million euros ($68.1m). The EU has not yet released data for arms transfers for 2023.

Beyond supplying Israel directly, EU arms are often indirectly exported to Israel via the US. Although arms exports are subject to end-user agreements, the US refuses to comply with this stipulation and EU countries don’t enforce it. This makes it impossible to track the full extent to which EU arms and components exported to the US eventually end up in weapons systems shipped to Israel.

Nevertheless, known EU military exports to Israel can be directly connected to the genocide in Gaza. Israeli’s Merkava tanks, operating in Gaza since the ground invasion began in late October, are using engine components manufactured by German company MTU  (a subsidiary of Rolls Royce), while Sa’ar corvettes, warships built by German company ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, have been active in the waters surrounding the besieged strip.

British company BAE Systems, in conjunction with German company Rheinmetall, manufactures M109 self-propelled howitzers which have been used to shell densely populated areas in Gaza. Amnesty International has found evidence that these artillery weapons also deployed white phosphorus munitions, which can burn skin down to the bone and cause organ dysfunction; their use in civilian areas is restricted under international law.

US-manufactured F-35 fighter jets used to carpet-bomb Gaza rely on European components with at least 25 percent of spare parts being exported directly to Israel from Europe. Only the Netherlands has placed restrictions on these following a legal case taken by civil society organisations, which was won on appeal.

European public money for Israeli arms

European countries not only export weapons to Israel amid growing international consensus that Israel is carrying out genocide in Gaza, but they are also spending public money to support the arms manufacturers that produce them.

New research by the Transnational Institute and Stop Wapenhandel reveals that European taxpayers’ money to the tune of 426 million euros ($461.7m) is currently funding companies that arm Israel.

German company Rheinmetall, which sends tank shells to Israel, has received over 169 million euros ($183m) while Finnish-Norwegian company Nammo, whose shoulder-fired “bunker buster” rocket launchers are exported to Israel has received more than 123 million euros ($133m). Other beneficiaries include Leonardo, ThyssenKrupp, Rolls Royce, BAE Systems, and Renk.

European public money is also going into financing security and defence projects that benefit Israel’s war machine. Since 2008, 84 Israeli entities have received 69.39 million euros ($75m) from a total of 132 security projects. The Ministry of National Security has participated in the most EU-funded security projects, despite systematically violating the human rights of Palestinians for decades.

In addition, much of the knowledge production that has been used in the development of Israel’s digital war tools currently deployed in Gaza was likely honed and perfected in universities benefitting from European research funding.

Since October 7, the EU has granted 126 million euros ($136.5m) in funding to 130 research projects involving Israeli entities. Of these projects, two are providing a total of 640,000 euros ($693,000) to arms company Israel Aerospace Industries. In the years preceding October 7, 2023, Israeli entities received 503 million euros ($545m) under Horizon Europe (2021-2023).

In addition, EU countries have been spending taxpayers’ money on Israeli arms for decades, thus supporting its military-industrial complex. Israel is among the world’s top 10 arms exporters, with roughly 25 percent of its defence exports going to European countries.

Israeli companies regularly market their products as “battle-tested”, a strategy that is legitimised by EU countries when they do business with them. Drones are by far the most popular product and the EU’s border guard agency Frontex leases them from Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for surveillance flights over the Mediterranean Sea.

EU countries have continued to engage Israeli arms companies after October 7. While there was an attempt by France to ban Israeli companies from the Eurosatory arms fair, an initial court ruling to that effect was eventually overturned in a Paris court and Israeli entities were granted permission to attend.

The fact that European public money is being channelled to arms companies and other entities involved in Israel’s onslaught in Gaza means, in effect, that the EU is financing a genocide.

For all its talk about human rights and the rule of law, the EU has failed to uphold either in response to Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza leaving its credibility and legitimacy in tatters. It is not too late to reverse some of the damage by imposing an arms embargo on Israel and stemming the flow of US weapons transiting through Europe to the genocidal regime. Failure to do so, particularly in light of the ICJ’s interim ruling on the plausibility of genocide, may render the EU and its member states complicit in it.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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