Who really smuggled weapons to Rafah?

Israeli attack helicopter operational above occupied land.

Israel’s ongoing assault on human lives and property, killing civilians and demolishing homes is, according to Israeli spokespersons, “aimed at preventing a huge shipment of arms from being smuggled”. According to Israeli spokespersons, Israel launched “Operation Rainbow”, its largest military raid on Palestinian civilians since “Operation Defensive Shield”, in a bid “to rid the border zone of its tunnels and capture the militants using them.”

The past four days, Israeli forces have killed 39 Palestinians. Its military assault on Palestinians in Rafah includes extensive house demolitions along the so-called “Philadelphi route” that runs along the border.

Original caption (19 May 2004, 11:20 AM ET): “An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah. The United States is ‘very concerned’ about the number of Palestinians killed in Israel’s major military raid in the Gaza Strip and has sought answers from Israel, the White House said. (AFP/Yoav Lemmer)

What no one asks, however, is the question who supplies Israel’s military occupation of Gaza, a strip of land, slightly more than twice the size of Washington DC, housing at least 1.2 million Palestinians and 6,000 Israeli settlers. It is not hard to guess that the U.S. administration is the largest supplier of arms and aid to Israel. The common figure given for U.S. aid to Israel is $3 billion per year—$1.2 billion in economic aid and $1.8 billion in military aid, representing about one-sixth of total U.S. foreign aid. Israel is one of the U.S.’ largest arms importers.

In the last decade, the U.S. has sold Israel $ 7.2 billion in weaponry and military equipment, $762 million through Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), more than $6.5 billion through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. In fact, Israel is so devoted to U.S. military hardware that it has the world’s largest fleet of F-16s outside the U.S., currently possessing more than 200 jets. The U.S. also gives Israel weapons and ammunition as part of the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program, providing these articles completely free of charge. Examples of U.S. weaponry being used by the Israeli army against Palestinian civilians and their property are AH-64 Apache and Cobra attack helicopters, missiles and other heavy arms. White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the Israel’s assault on Rafah “troubling” and said: “The Israelis have told us they will make every effort to minimize the impact on Palestinians not involved in acts of terrorism or arms smuggling.” While he had learned that U.S. delivered Apache helicopters fired missiles in a peaceful demonstration, he said: “We understand their explanation but we still find the violence troubling.”

Israel not only uses arms transferred from the U.S., despite restrictive policies on arms exports to states that violate human rights, Israel also uses arms being transferred and exported from the EU.

A week ago, on May 14, Amnesty International reported that EU arms, security equipment and services are contributing to grave human rights abuses and that the scale of potential abuse is now enormous. The major EU arms exporting countries - France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom - account for one third of the world’s arms deals. In its report, Undermining Global Security: the European Union’s arms exports, Amnesty International highlights serious flaws in the European Union’s key arms control agreements, especially the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.


Today France is one of Israel’s main suppliers after the US and Germany. According to SIPRI, France exported major conventional weapons worth $50m to Israel between 1996 and 2000. This included a delivery of seven AS-565SA Panther helicopters between 1996 and 1998 which were ordered through and partly funded by the US.


According to figures from SIPRI, Germany supplied Israel with major conventional weaponry worth $765m between 1996 and 2000. In 2000 alone, the last year for which figures are available, Germany sold about $170m in military equipment, including parts for tanks and armoured cars. This included key parts for the Israeli Merkava tank, which are currently being used in Rafah. Israel is Germany’s seventh largest military client.


The US Data Device Corporation (DDC), which has production facilities in Cork, Ireland (DDC Ireland Ltd) states on its website that its MIL-STD-1553 Data Bus products are used in the AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters. Its MIL-STD-1553 data bus, the life line of the aircraft, include a lethal array of armaments, including a mix of up to 16 Hellfire missiles or 76 70mm aerial rockets and 1,200 rounds of 30mm ammunition for its M230 Chain Gun automatic canon.

The Netherlands

A large part of Dutch exports are components for incorporation into larger weapon systems, mainly to be assembled in the U.S. which, in turn, is the major supplier of arms to Israel. In compensation orders Dutch companies are involved producing components for Apache attack helicopters and F-16 fighter planes to the U.S.. In general is not announced who the end-user of these aircrafts will be. In 2001 transfers of components were worth EURO 87 million. The Dutch company Stork Special Products produces components for Hellfire rockets, which are frequently used by the Israeli airforce in extra-judicial executions and to shell Palestinian residential areas. The missile is produced by Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman and a number of subcontractors and exported to thirteen countries, including Israel.

At least one Dutch company is open about the end-user of its products, on its ethical policy page: “In principle, Philips companies do not produce products or render services specially designed or developed for the military, except for the following products: F16 parts and Apache parts supplied to NATO countries and Israel (under compensation agreements US/Netherlands).” Eventhough information on end-users remains largely secret, Philips announced that its components are incorporated into Apaches that are in action in Israel. Additionally, in 2002 the Netherlands granted Israel export licences worth 1.46 million euros, approximately half of the licensed Dutch transit trade. The licences were granted for goods under the category A2, which are those connected with armoured vehicles. This is despite the consistent reporting by human rights organisations of the misuse of such equipment by the Israeli security forces. Since 22 August 2002, the Dutch Central Service Import and Export received 24 “notifications” to transit small arms and light weapons from Israeli Airways for shipments originating in the United States with destination Israel.

The United Kingdom

The UK has sold Israel equipment and components for tanks, combat aircraft, combat helicopters, missiles, ammunition, mines, machine guns, tear gas, and electronic equipment for military use. UK companies with known connections with Israel include: the Airtechnology Group, which supplies parts to IMI for the Merkava tank, BAE Systems, which has provided head-up displays for US-built F16s214 and whose subsidiary Rokar International is the current sole-source supplier of counter-measure dispensing systems for the Israeli airforce, and Smiths Group which has supplied missile triggering systems for Apache helicopters.

Israeli Merkava tanks had been equipped with a cooling system made by the Surrey-based Airtechnology Group, and UK components, including missile trigger systems made by Smiths Group, are used in US-made Apache helicopters supplied to Israel, both in action killing and injuring Palestinian civilians in Rafah.

In March 2002, Junior UK Foreign Office Minister, Ben Bradshaw, disclosed that the Israeli armed forces had modified UK Centurion tanks, exported between 1958 and 1970, and were using them as armoured personnel carriers. He stated that this contradicted a written assurance from the Israeli government on 29 November 2000 that “no UK-originated equipment nor any UK-originated systems/ sub systems /components are used as part of the defence force’s activities in the territories”. The UK government has continued to supply arms and equipment to the Israeli security forces. Such transfers continue despite reports that generic types of such equipment have been used by the Israeli security forces in Rafah to commit human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.

The European Union: What Code of Conduct?

The situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories should be foremost on the minds of European officials when they carry out their reviews of the EU Code of Conduct for Arms Exports. The code was adopted in 1998 with the aim of “setting high common standards” over arms exports. Criteria include respect of human rights in the country of final destination; in particular, member states will “not issue an export license if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression”, including, inter alia, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, summary or arbitrary executions, arbitrary detentions and other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as set out in relevant international human rights instruments.

Human rights organisations and various bodies of the United Nations have documented such major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the case of Israel. Other criteria include the existence of tensions or armed conflicts, and whether there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim. Political and military experts can provide the necessary assessment that, indeed, Israel would fail the test on this item. Moreover, an assessment includes “the behavior of the buyer country with regard to the international community”, in particular with regard to respect for international law, “its compliance with its international commitments, in particular the non-use of force, including under international humanitarian law applicable to international and non-international conflicts”.

The world has seen and condemned Israel’s human rights record. The transfer of arms to Israel is inconsistent with the criteria provided in the EU Code of Conduct. Export licenses should therefore be refused. Taking into account the volume and gravity of human rights violations and breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, including acts of war crimes, that have been documented by various human rights organisations and United Nations bodies, and the volume of Israeli forces and military equipment stationed in the occupied Palestinian territories, and since there is no common system of monitoring the end-use of European arms by the Israeli forces in the Palestinian territories, only a full arms embargo will prevent European arms from being used to commit war crimes and other human rights abuses. The European Union, therefore, should renew its arms embargo against Israel, which it lifted in 1994.

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Israel’s “Operation Rainbow” in Rafah, Gaza
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