There is a growing number of voices in Finland calling for an immediate end to all forms of Finnish–Israeli military trade and cooperation, writes Jimmy Johnston and Bruno Jäntti.
In December 2009, the Finnish Foreign Affairs Council reiterated its position on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, stating “that settlements and the separation barrier were built on occupied land, demolition of homes and evictions are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.” The Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Stubb, has made similar statements, proclaiming, for instance, that “the 1967 borders must be restored”.
These formulations refer to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is considered to be the longest ongoing military occupation in the post-WWII era. Despite the official statements, and indeed undermining and contradicting them, the Ministry of Defence of Finland (MDF) is likely to continue yet again the unpopular policy of trading arms with Israel in spite of an exceptional public outcry.
Flight Global recently reported that the MDF has narrowed the field in its competition to provide the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) with a mini unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The article noted that the FDF “plans to acquire 30-45 UAV systems that will include between 120 and 176 air vehicles, with the deal to have a value of around $25 million.”
Of the five remaining bidders, four are Israeli companies with deep ties to the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and, furthermore, but for one of the four, the very models offered are – or have been – in active use in Israeli military operations throughout the West Bank, Gaza and southern Lebanon. In 2006, a Finnish member of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was killed by the Israeli Air Force.
The five models are the pan-European consortium EADS’ DRAC, and four models from Israeli arms manufacturers: BlueBird’s Spylite, Elbit Systems’ Skylark, the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Bird-Eye 650 and Aeronautics Defense Systems’ Orbiter. The FDF already employs one Israeli UAV, an Israel Aerospace Industries’ Ranger, as well as other Israeli materials that have been “battle-tested” on the proving ground that is the occupation, including anti-armour missiles, artillery munitions, avionics and more.
The Orbiter’s promotional brochure describes it as a “field proven, mature operational system”. The BlueBird company, too, offers the SpyLite as “combat proven”, noting that it “has been operated successfully in combat conditions for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and has been chosen for use by the Israeli Air Force”. The Israeli website WhoProfits.org notes that the UAV has “been used during air-strike executions” by the Air Force in Gaza. The IDF noted of the Skylark that “a star was born in the Gaza skies” after its “hundreds of operation flights” during the Israeli assault on Gaza, which started on 27 December 2008. They also noted how it “assisted the commanders with artillery fire” and caught “many terrorists in hot pursuit”.
Elbit is the largest arms company in Israel. A number of European banks and pension funds have divested from the company, including Deutsche Bank and pension funds in Norway and Sweden, explicitly because of its involvement in the occupation. In 2009, Finland chose the opposite path and awarded Elbit a contract of 17 million euros. Since 1994, Finland has bought more than 170 million euros’ worth of Israeli weapons.
In an earlier interview with Flight Global, the CEO of Elbit Systems, Joseph Ackerman, stated: “For over 10 years our UAVs have been the backbone of UAV operations in the Israeli defence forces. Two main UAV programmes in the defence forces are based on our systems: one on the Hermes 450 and the other on the Skylark II.” Given that the Israeli Air Force has killed thousands of civilians, this statement alone should be viewed as undisputable evidence of Elbit’s involvement in war crimes as well as flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.
The only model in the tender – but for the EADS DRAC, which is currently deployed in Afghanistan with the French – not in use against Palestinians is the IAI Bird-Eye 650, not yet deployed with any military in the world. Other models from the same company have been sold but the UAV labs at IAI have been far more successful with the Heron model. According to Human Rights Watch, “Israel used both the Hermes and Heron drones armed with the Spike” missile during Cast Lead, including a strike on a group of students waiting for a bus in front of the UN’s Gaza Technical College. According to the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, the Israeli military committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during its three-week assault, which killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.
Besides a number of articles in Finland’s biggest newspapers critical of the Finnish–Israeli arms trade, 225 influential public figures, including the “who’s who” of Finnish professors of international law and an exhaustive list of world-renowned Finnish dignitaries on arts, sciences and politics, are publicly calling for an immediate end to all forms of Finnish–Israeli military trade and co-operation. Additionally, for years Finland has pushed for an international and legally binding Arms Trade Treaty that would ban all forms of arms trade – import, export, transfer – with countries that violate human rights. One outcome remains an absolute certainty if the MDF purchases the UAVs from any of the abovementioned Israeli companies, which constitute an integral part of the illegalities of the occupation: the next time that Finnish representatives at the UN advocate the Arms Trade Treaty, not a single member of the General Assembly will take Finland seriously.