Has Ireland enabled Israel’s war crimes?

Demonstrators have held regular marches to protest the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. (Shannonwatch)

Ireland’s Shannon Airport provides regular support to US imperialism. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, it has served as a refueling stop for warplanes. Approximately 2.5 million armed US troops are estimated to have passed through this nominally civilian facility in the past 15 years.

Eager to shield the US from scrutiny, leading Irish politicians have concealed the truth about what is happening and tried to mislead the public, sometimes in a contradictory manner.

Then leader of Ireland’s Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore complained in 2007 that Shannon was accommodating CIA flights on which prisoners were being “ferreted away for the purpose of torture.”

Gilmore was in opposition at that time; he took a different line in 2012, when he was Ireland’s foreign minister. In that capacity, he claimed there was no evidence of Shannon being used for torture flights.

Despite the official secrecy, some information about Shannon has been unearthed by anti-war activists. Much of the evidence is inconclusive but it raises vital questions.

Here is one such question: Has Ireland enabled Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians?


In 2006, the Irish Independent reported that a cargo plane carrying three Apache helicopters had landed in Shannon earlier that year before flying to Israel.

Ireland’s transport ministry claimed to the newspaper that the plane had meant to fly via Iceland but had touched down in Shannon after encountering some technical problems. Such excuses were threadbare. The ministry had admitted that the plane had been authorized to land in Shannon on the return leg of its journey, meaning that Ireland was facilitating the delivery of US weapons to Israel.

Apache helicopters had been extensively used by Israel in its bombing raids on Gaza as it attempted to crush a Palestinian uprising — or intifada — during the first few years of this century.

For example, Israel used Apache helicopters to bomb a taxi that was driving a few hundred meters from a hospital in the Rafah area of southern Gaza in June 2002. Two of the Palestinians who died in the attack were wanted by Israel. Four other people were also killed.

During Operation Cast Lead, a major Israeli assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, Irish anti-war activists became suspicious about a US plane that spent several days in Shannon.

Research by the activists revealed that the plane — a C-130 Hercules — was normally stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. That base is located near the headquarters of Pine Bluff Arsenal, a supplier of white phosphorous munitions to the US military.

A few days before the plane landed in Shannon, the news agency Reuters published photos of the Israeli military handling projectiles whose markings indicate that they were made at Pine Bluff in the 1990s. Human Rights Watch has documented how US-provided white phosphorous, a weapon known to cause horrific burns, was used extensively by Israel during Operation Cast Lead.

Activists with Shannonwatch, an anti-war group, requested in January 2009 that the Irish police investigate whether a banned chemical weapon was transported via Shannon.

Weapons used by Israel have been routed through Shannon even before the airport became a refueling stop for the US military.

In May 2001, Ireland’s foreign ministry asked three other government departments — defense, transport and justice — if they would have any objection to a plane carrying US-made Patriot missiles landing in Shannon. No objection was raised.

And so, the flight in question took off from Tel Aviv in June. After touching down in Shannon, it continued to the US.

The foreign ministry’s letter did not explain why the missiles were being transported to the US from Israel. Edward Horgan, a Shannonwatch activist who obtained a copy of the letter, said the missiles “were probably going to be modified” in the US and then returned to the Israeli military.

Annoying the powerful

Horgan, a retired soldier, took legal action against the Irish state in 2003. In the case, he argued that the US military’s use of Shannon violated Ireland’s status as a neutral country.

The case was assessed by Ireland’s high court. The court acknowledged that the Irish government had contravened customary law on neutrality by allowing US troops through Shannon at a time of war. However, it ruled against Horgan on a number of other key issues.

Horgan is continuing to protest against Shannon’s use by the US military. Demonstrations are held at the airport each month, he said, in order to “annoy those in power.”

Horgan has recently returned from a trip to the occupied West Bank, which he has been visiting since the 1970s. The visit underscored for him the importance of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in challenging Israel’s military occupation.

“We did learn in our visit to the West Bank that BDS is the one thing that is giving Palestinians hope,” he said. “It is the one thing which is having a huge impact on Israel. Every Palestinian group we met encouraged us to promote the BDS movement.”

With US military aid to Israel reaching its highest ever levels, there is a strong likelihood that weapons deliveries will continue to be routed through Shannon.

In 2014, the Irish government authorized 272 flights bringing weapons or explosives through Shannon. Most were destined for the Middle East.

Campaigners who have taken direct action against Shannon’s role in aiding war crimes and human rights abuses have been arrested.

Margaretta D’Arcy, now aged 82, has twice been jailed for staging a protest on the airport’s runway in 2013.

Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, both members of Ireland’s parliament, the Oireachtas, were briefly imprisoned last year. They were arrested as they attempted to inspect a US warplane at the airport in 2014.

That same year, Ireland’s then justice minister Alan Shatter defended the jailing of Margaretta D’Arcy by arguing that “no one is above the rule of law no matter what their age.”

His words were replete with irony. By transforming Shannon into a military base, Ireland has allowed the US to disregard international law.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist based in Galway, Ireland. Website: ciarantierney.com.