Finnish-Israeli arms trade flouts EU regulations

Finland’s arms coopration with Israel violates EU regulations. (Matthew Cassel)

Contrary to the heavily-hyped image according to which the policy output of Finland is even-handed and neutral in the Israel/Palestine conflict, Finland is actually a major arms trading partner with Israel. Recent reports by the Committee of 100 in Finland, Amnesty International, as well as an article in Finland’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, all revealed Finland’s deeply troubling attitude towards the actions of the State of Israel.

Since 2002 the value of trade between Finland and Israel in anti-tank guided missiles has been more than 4 million euros. After numerous queries Finland’s Ministry of Defense admitted that Finnish corporation Insta DefSec Inc. had subcontracted this material to Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, a major Israeli weapons manufacturer with ties to Israel’s nuclear programs. Insta has exported more than 200 thermographic cameras and 3,000 parts for the missile’s seeker head, both crucial components of the Spike anti-tank missile (Jarmo Pykälä, “Panssarintorjuntaohjusten osia ydinaseyhtiölle,” Kansan uutiset, 9 April 2009).

These dealings made Finland the second largest provider of missile technology to Israel, playing second fiddle only to the United States. Finland is also Israel’s ninth most important supplier of arms and ammunitions, according to Amnesty International. Besides these exports, Finland purchased medium-range missiles from Rafael in 2000 and 2001 for a value of more than 37 million euros. Amnesty International also reports that Patria, a Finnish military contractor, has done service work and tests with Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s biggest military manufacturers. Finnish Defence Forces has also purchased electronics from Israel for at least $21 million since the year 2000 (“Missä soditaan suomalaisilla aseilla,” Suomen Sadankomitea ry, 2009 [PDF]). While there is no direct evidence that Finnish military exports are used by the Israeli army itself, Finland is a major trading partner with companies such as Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Elbit Systems. These military technology giants, for their part, are at the very core of the illegalities carried out by the Israeli political-military establishment.

The history of weapons trade between Finland and Israel goes back more than half a century. After the Continuation War — the second of the two wars between the Soviet Union and Finland during World War II — Tampella, a Finnish heavy industry and weapons company, restored and stockpiled machinery for manufacturing ammunition. In 1950, this merchandise was shipped to Israel. The same year Tampella sold the license of its mortar model to Israeli arms maker Soltam Systems (Teemu Sainio, Tampellan konepajan aseteollisuus 1932 - 1944 Masters Graduate Thesis in History, University of Tampere, 2003).

In order to understand the political and legal implications of the Finnish-Israeli cooperation in military technology, and accordingly in order to determine whether Israel is or is not a legally eligible candidate for arms trade, we need to establish both the nature of Israel’s policies and the legal framework for the arms trade.

During its attack last winter on the occupied Gaza Strip, which had already plunged into a humanitarian catastrophe due to Israel’s illegal blockade, the Israeli army inflicted widespread death, injury and devastation. The respected and independent Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that 926 Palestinian civilians died in Israel’s attack and 5,303 were injured. Amongst them, 427 children under the age of 16 were killed and 1,890 children were injured. Furthermore, 110 women, 123 old people, 14 doctors and 4 journalists were killed. According to the UN, Israel destroyed 160 schools, 1,500 factories and workshops and 80 percent of the agricultural crops (Margaret Coker “Gaza’s Isolation Slows Rebuilding Efforts,” The Wall Street Journal, 5 February 2009). The BBC reported that 4,000 buildings were destroyed and 20,000 damaged. At least 50,000 Palestinians were left homeless and 400,000 without running water.

Knowing that the military technology used by the Israeli army is among the most advanced in the world there can be no doubt that the obliteration of the Gaza’s civil society was fully intentional.

In the light of the above-mentioned statistics alone, Finland’s military trade and research cooperation with Israel clearly violates European Union regulations on arms trade, which Finland has pledged to observe.

What about the rocket attacks from Gaza to southern Israel? According to Human Rights Watch, 2,700 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel from August 2005 (after Israel withdrew its settlers and moved its forces to the periphery of the Gaza Strip) and May 2007, killing four Israeli civilians. During the same period, Israel fired 14,617 shells into Gaza. This shelling killed at least 59 and wounded 270 Palestinians. Unlike the rockets fired by Hamas, the Israeli shelling was usually ignored by mainstream media. Although the rockets fired by Hamas violate international law as they are unguided and therefore those who launch them cannot differentiate between the Israeli military and Israeli civilians, an objective account leaves no room for speculation: Israel has fired far more numerous, destructive and precise shells into the occupied Gaza Strip.

The highest political body of the European Union, the European Council, has defined the legally binding rules of EU’s arms exports. The second of the eight regulations that comprise the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Export states that EU member states will “not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.” It also obliges EU states to “exercise special caution and vigilance in issuing licences, on a case-by-case basis and taking account of the nature of the equipment, to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the UN, the Council of Europe or by the EU.” If that is not clear enough, the regulation adds that “Member States will take into account inter alia the record of the buyer country with regard to its compliance with its international commitments, in particular on the non-use of force, including under international humanitarian law applicable to international and non-international conflicts.”

It should also be noted that Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, the treaty which gives Israel special access to EU markets, states that relations between Israel and EU states, “as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.” It would appear that selling weapons to a country that flagrantly violates international law, as Israel does, would certainly violate both the spirit and letter of this agreement.

Besides the highly destructive and murderous Israeli military campaigns of short duration, there are numerous high-quality studies available on Israel’s other blatant human rights violations, produced regularly by both local (such as the Israeli B’Tselem and the Palestinian Al-Haq) and international (such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) human rights organizations. These meticulous reports encompass several decades. They all conclude, with remarkable correspondence in the tiniest details, that Israel is guilty of serious human rights violations, many amounting to war crimes.

Keeping this in mind, as well as Israel’s blockade and attack on Gaza, the illegal occupation and colonization with settlements of Palestinian territory, the wall declared illegal by the International Court of Justice, all of which violate international law and human rights, the Finnish-Israeli arms cooperation is morally despicable and violates EU regulations. It is thus illegal and should be discontinued immediately.

Bruno Jäntti is a student of Political Science at University of Tampere, Finland, and an Israel/Palestine activist. He can be reached at brunojantti A T yahoo D O T com.