Belgium’s links to Israel’s war industry appear to be getting stronger.
At least, that is what I learned from a recent briefing by arms trade monitor Thierry de Lannoy.
He cited data indicating that Belgium is the fourth largest provider of weapons to Israel in the European Union. As the top three -- France, Germany and Britain -- are much larger countries hosting some of the world’s leading “defense” companies, that ranking alone appears significant for a relative minnow like Belgium. At €14 million ($18.5 million), the volume of arms contracts approved by the Belgian authorities to Israel was particularly high in 2005, the year before Israel killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Lebanon.
“Made in Belgium” components are essential to some of the most sophisticated and lethal instruments in Israel’s arsenal, as de Lannoy explained.
U2 hire military firm
Barco, a firm registered in the Dutch-speaking city of Kortrijk, is a provider of screens to the pilotless drones -- or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- that Israel used to attack Gaza in late 2008 and 2009. The same firm’s brochures, incidentally, brag of how it provided screen and lighting technology to the Irish rock band U2 for its latest world tour. Considering how Bono, the band’s singer, used that technology to declare support for human rights, pressure should be put on him and other musicians to cease doing business with Barco.
De Lannoy also drew attention to how Israel’s top weapons producer, Elbit, is now in charge of a few Belgian companies. In 2003, an Elbit subsidiary El-Op Industries bought Optronics Instruments and Products (OIP) in Oudenaarde, a town in Flanders. OIP, which makes sensors and detection equipment for military clients, went on to buy Sabiex, a tank distributor headquartered in Braine l’Alleud, a French-speaking part of Belgium, last year.
The campaign group Intal yesterday held a “die-in” protest at the central train station in Brussels to raise awareness about Belgian cooperation with Israel’s war industry. As I was one of those who lay on the ground as part of the action, it was difficult for me to gauge how it was received among the public. Fellow protesters who handed out flyers, however, reported that the response was generally positive, with many passersby expressing an interesting in learning more about the topic.
Arms cooperation with Israel is almost certainly illegal. Since 2008, all of the EU’s countries have been bound by a code of conduct on arms exports, which says that weapons should not be sold to countries where they are likely to be used for repression or where they are likely to contribute to aggravating tensions among neighbors. If the EU showed any respect for its own laws, then it wouldn’t be trading a single bullet with Israel.
●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 27 November 2011.