Despite opposition, Finland proceeds with Israel arms deal

20 July 2011

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Finnish popular opinion is against increased military ties with Israel but the government is plowing ahead regardless.

(Mohamed Al-Zanon / Maan Images)

Despite an unprecendented public outcry, Finland’s Ministry of Defense is set to go ahead with a controversial collaboration with Israeli arms companies deeply involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Finland is turning to Israel for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) — commonly known as a “drones” — in a deal with more than 17 million euros.

On 10 October last year, the main Finnish daily and the largest subscription newspaper in the Nordic countries Helsingin Sanomat published in its Sunday edition a full page article titled “Israel, Our Brother-in-arms” (“Aseveljemme Israel” [PDF]).

With the newspaper’s one million-strong Sunday circulation, the Helsingin Sanomat article was the most prominent of the many reports dealing with Finland’s arms trade with Israel. Among the factors giving impetus to the article was a petition of more than a hundred Finnish dignitaries from the arts, sciences and politics calling for the immediate discontinuation of Finnish-Israeli arms trade and military technology cooperation in all forms (“Vetoomus Suomen ja Israelin asekaupan lakkauttamiseksi,” via ICAHD Finland).

During the months that followed, the number of signatories grew from 100 to more than 250. Among those insisting on a cessation of all forms of military cooperation with Israel are Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, world-renowned expert on international law Martti Koskenniemi and the most distinguished Finnish filmmaker of all time, Aki Kaurismäki. They were joined by more than forty professors, a number of Finlandia Prize winners, Finnish MEPs and MPs, stage and film directors, actors, writers and scholars. The petition encompasses an impressive and exhaustive array of the who’s who in Finnish arts, sciences and politics.

Moreover, earlier this month, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) issued a call for “an immediate and comprehensive military embargo on Israel” similar to the one that had been imposed on apartheid South Africa. The call, which marked the seventh anniversary of the still unenforced International Court of Justice decision declaring Israel’s wall in the West Bank illegal, was endorsed by Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Perez Esquivel.

It has also been endorsed by the European Network Against Arms Trade.

The two Israeli finalists in the Finnish UAV bid

In June, the Ministry of Defense announced that it had chosen the two finalists in a UAV tender worth more than 17 million euros for 30-45 unmanned systems. Both finalists are Israeli military technology manufacturers, and the winner will be announced in November.

The companies competing for the Finnish UAV contract are Bluebird Aero Systems and Aeronautics Defense Systems. Both BlueBird and Aeronautics are candid and vocal about their partnership with the Israeli military as this is what the companies regard as a decisive advantage over their competitors in the multi-billion euro international arms markets.

On its website, a BlueBird video commercial states: “BlueBird’s mini-electrical UASs [unmanned aerial systems] are combat-proven, flying with the Israeli Air Force, Israeli MOD [Ministry of Defense], US Special Forces and others while continually demonstrating reliable performance and outstanding results” (the video is also on Youtube).

Among the many links between Bluebird and the criminal actions of the Israeli military, Bluebird’s UAVs were used in air strike executions perpetrated in Gaza by the Israeli Air Force, according to the watchdog group Who Profits? (BlueBird Aero Systems company page on whoprofits.org)

As for the “outstanding results” and “reliable performance,” the Israeli military killed at least 87 civilians in more than forty UAV attacks during the three week long assault on Gaza that begin on 27 December 2008, according to a June 2009 report by Human Rights Watch which cited evidence from B’Tselem, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (“Precisely Wrong - Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles”).

Likewise, Aeronautics’ UAVs were also reportedly used during Israel’s three week-long assault on the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Aeronautics is one of the companies that have created a perimeter-control system for the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The company is also developing hi-tech systems with military applications, such as perimeter control radar systems and bomb fuses.

Aeronautics also holds shares in Controp Precision Technologies which has sold electro-optical intrusion detection systems for the illegal wall Israel has built inside the occupied West Bank. Additionally, Controp is running a joint project with the off-road utility vehicle manufacturer Tomcar and the private Israeli military powerhouse Elbit Systems, developing a UAV for military purposes, and selling cameras for UAVs used by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to Who Profits? (see the Aeronautics Defense Systems listing on whoprofits.org).

Deepening ties with human rights violators

Israel is investing extraordinary resources in military exports and, as a result, a stunning 80 percent of Israel’s military production is exported to foreign markets. Last year, Israel exported military equipment for more than 5.1 billion euros. The defense budget of Finland, by comparison, is approximately 2.7 billion euros. Therefore, the total value of military exports from Israel is roughly twice the defense budget of Finland (in spite of Israel’s GDP being smaller than that of Finland). Furthermore, Israel’s defense budget is 3.5 times that of Finland.

Israel is regarded as arguably the most militarized state in the world (see Martin van Creveld’s The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force, 1998, p. 123) with a sizable private military industry fully intertwined with the Israeli army, police and intelligence agencies, all of which are involved in blatantly criminal activities.

Finnish policy makers’ choice to persistently offer new military contracts to Israel is part of the legitimization of Israeli illegalities and a culture of unaccountability, which are characteristic of the EU and US’ approach toward Israel. The military trade with Israel doesn’t quite contribute to the ending of the conflict, either, yet this is officially the stated aim of the Finnish government’s Middle East policy.

As the total value of the arms trade between Finland and Israel approaches 200 million euros, the continuing military transactions have imposed collective responsibility and therefore complicity on Finnish taxpayers. The links between the Finnish taxpayer to the longest illegal and ongoing military occupation in the post-Second Word War era are sealed by the UAV contract. At what point exactly Finnish decision-makers start to pay heed to public opposition with the military trade with Israel remains to be seen.

Bruno Jäntti is the founder of ICAHD Finland, the Finnish branch of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at brunojantti (at) yahoo dot com.