The European Union is giving millions of dollars of “research” funding to a company that is helping Israel evade an international ban on cluster weapons.
Israel has specifically chosen the company, Elbit Systems, to supply new artillery cannons because a European manufacturer would restrict Israel from using cluster munitions.
Yet the European Commission, the EU’s executive bureaucracy, is shrugging its shoulders, insisting to The Electronic Intifada that the funding follows ethical guidelines.
The EU says it strongly supports international bans on cluster weapons and landmines. In response to a query from The Electronic Intifada, a European Commission spokesperson hailed the bans as “major diplomatic achievements” that the 28-member bloc wanted to see fully implemented.
But the EU is planning no action to hold Israel or Elbit accountable.
“Insane and monstrous”
Cluster munitions spread small bomblets over a wide area, posing an immediate, indiscriminate threat to civilians. Many of the bomblets do not explode on impact but continue to cause death and injury long after they are fired, becoming, in the words of Human Rights Watch, “de facto landmines.”
During its 2006 invasion of Lebanon, Israel fired more than a million cluster munitions into the country. “What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs,” an Israeli army officer told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz.
Those weapons continue to pose a danger to people in Lebanon. Since the 2006 Israeli invasion, according to the US embassy in Beirut, more than 40 people have been killed and 300 injured by unexploded ordnance.
The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits their use, production, transfer and stockpiling.
More than one hundred countries are fully signed up to the convention.
The European Parliament has also given strong backing to the treaty with a resolution urging the European Commission “to include the ban on cluster munitions as a standard clause in agreements with third countries” and “to make the fight against cluster munitions an integral part of [EU] external assistance programs.”
Yet Israel has not signed the cluster munitions ban and far from moving in that direction, it is looking for ways to evade its restrictions.
Shopping for new artillery cannons, Israel was interested in guns made by the German firm KMW.
But according to a report in Haaretz this week, Israel is instead buying cannons from Elbit Systems because of concerns that the manufacturer in Germany, which is a signatory to the ban, “would restrict the cannons from firing cluster bombs.”
A retired Israeli military officer familiar with the matter told Haaretz that Israel was worried the Germans would not give Israel “complete independence” over the use of the weapons.
“We would have been more than happy to have opened bidding because that brings down prices,” the officer said, “but we wanted a cannon that would be operated without conditions.”
According to Haaretz, Israel continues to manufacture and stockpile cluster munitions, though supposedly ones which leave a very low rate of unexploded bombs.
Although Israel is not party to the cluster munitions convention, Human Rights Watch says it would be preferable for Elbit to stop manufacturing such systems.
“Companies in other countries that are not party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions have taken that step,” Mary Wareham, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch’s arms division, told The Electronic Intifada.
She noted that last August, US-based Textron Systems announced it was halting production of cluster munitions, while Singapore Technologies Engineering disclosed in November 2015 that it no longer manufactures anti-personnel landmines or cluster munitions.
Tested on Palestinians
“Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms company, boasts that its weapons are ‘combat-proven,’ meaning tried and tested in Israeli military attacks on Palestinians,” Ryvka Barnard, senior campaigns officer with the human rights group War on Want, told The Electronic Intifada.
“Elbit has produced white phosphorous, cannons that shoot cluster munitions and countless other weapons that cause devastating civilian casualties, some of which are banned by international treaties signed by EU countries.”
EU defends funding to arms maker
Elbit is also the beneficiary of EU largesse. It is receiving almost $6 million in European taxpayer money as part of Horizon 2020 and other EU research funding streams.
But the EU is defending the funding even after the revelation that Elbit is supplying the cluster munition cannons to Israel.
“EU research funding under Horizon 2020 specifically excludes research for military purposes,” the European Commission spokesperson told The Electronic Intifada in an email on Thursday.
The spokesperson added that “several mechanisms have been put in place to prevent EU funds from being used for activities that could be contrary to international law,” including elaborate review panels and “ethical evaluations.”
However, a group of prominent international legal experts recently criticized the Horizon 2020 evaluation process, noting that it ignores EU regulations barring funding to individuals or entities responsible for or complicit in grave misconduct, such as torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Incentivizing” Israeli crimes
Campaigners do not buy the distinction the EU makes between the military and non-military activities of a company like Elbit, seeing all funding to Israel’s arms makers as bolstering Israeli impunity.
“The EU, and member countries like the UK, admit that Israel systematically violates international law through its military occupation and attacks on Palestinians,” War on Want’s Barnard stated.
“And yet, they continue to reward the Israeli government and arms companies with research money, contracts and trade deals that feed its war machine.”
Barnard added that the EU is “incentivizing Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights and war crimes by continuing its arms trade with Israel.”
“It’s time for the EU and all of its member countries to take international law seriously, and implement an immediate two-way arms embargo on Israel,” Barnard said, noting that grassroots pressure would continue.
“Where governments fail to implement their own policies, and hold Israel to account, ordinary people have taken up the Palestinian call to take up campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel,” Barnard said.
In a column describing the horrors perpetrated with cluster weapons, Haaretz’s Gideon Levy writes that Israel’s determination to ignore the international ban indicates that it “wants to kill as many innocent people as possible.”
The European Union, it would appear, is just as determined to help.