Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24
No region in the world is suffering from a combination of democratic deficit and rampant militarisation to the extent the modern Middle East is. Accordingly, the success rate of Middle Eastern state actors to subdue domestic challenges to the status quo remains high.
The exceptional degree of democratic deficit, the lack of freedom of speech and press, the starkly unequal distribution of wealth and the near complete annihilation of local leftist movements have not been brought about by Middle Eastern states alone. Rather, the structuring of the region along authoritarian lines has been and remains predominantly a joint-project by regional elites and dictatorial regimes, on one hand, and external powers and their geopolitical ambitions, on the other.
Albeit the rise of ISIS, or Islamic State, has led to some attempts in the EU and the US to seriously assess the politics of the Middle East, the prevailing framing of public discussion fails to recognize the key grievances in the region. It is reasonable to assume that the general public in the EU and the US is not aware that the policies of their governments in the Middle East are part of the problem.
The Israel-Palestine conflict serves as an illustrative case study on both the international nature of the region’s tragedies, in general, and the reactionary role of Western countries’ Middle East foreign policy, in particular.
Rewarding Israel’s violations of international law
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Western powers reacted vocally and assaulted Iraq. Indeed, the Gulf War has often been regarded in the West as evidence of the principled opposition by the US and Europe against illegal invasions.
Europe and the US behaved quite differently, however, after Israel acquired much greater swaths of foreign territory in 1967 than Iraq did in 1990.
In late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the US-Israeli love affair started to blossom. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the US has given bilateral assistance to Israel for more than $121 billion. This unprecedented amount of military and economic assistance has been accompanied by strong political and diplomatic support.
Whereas the US-Israel special relationship is well-known, less emphasis is given to the equally important EU-Israel relations. EU is Israel’s largest trading partner with an annual bilateral trade of over $44 billion (2012).
The EU-Israel Association Agreement offers Israel preferential access to EU markets. Despite Israel being a textbook violator of international law, EU officials have indeed been bold enough to condition the entire agreement upon “respect for human rights and democratic principles”. The Article 2 of the agreement solemnly reads:
“Relations between the Parties, 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.”
Presenting a comprehensive picture of Israel’s violations of international law falls well beyond the scope of this article. Instead, let us take a quick look at some of the most pressing issues that help to determine the extent to which Israel respects “human rights and democratic principles”.
A rogue state extraordinaire
B’Tselem, The Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories, reports that since September 29, 2000, Israeli forces have killed more than 6750 Palestinians, including over 1380 children. These figures do not include Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians.
Human Rights Watch has confirmed that “the number of Palestinians tortured or severely ill-treated while under interrogation during the intifada is in the tens of thousands”. B’Tselem has specified that a stunning “eighty-five percent of persons interrogated by the GSS [General Security Service] were interrogated by methods constituting torture”.
According to figures published by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Israel has destroyed 29,000 homes and livelihood structures in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967. It bears emphasis that, besides Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the only country in the world which punishes the families of suspected offenders by demolishing their homes is Israel.
UNICEF asserts on Israel that “[i]t is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”
Also, the massive settlement infrastructure Israel has erected in the West Bank constitutes a particularly flagrant breach of international law.
Besides these violations, Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories is the longest in the post-WWII era. Israel’s occupation regime systematically denies Palestinians their basic political freedoms and human rights.
The above overview, however inadequate, is still enough to give some background to the following quote by Tzipi Livni: “I’m a lawyer and I’m against the law, international law in particular”. At the time of this exceptionally frank formulation, Livni was the foreign minister of Israel.
Israel’s unprecedented level of militarism
A German research institute, the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), produces a comprehensive annual study titled Global Militarisation Index (GMI). Having initially focused on the conversion of military stockpiles, equipment and processes for civilian use, the BICC has more recently started to put together GMI studies which meticulously record a multitude of indicators that ultimately determine the state of militarisation in approximately 150 states.
These indicators include the ratio of quantity of heavy weaponry to the total population and the ratio of the total number of military and paramilitary forces to the number of physicians and to the overall population. Also, the comparisons of military expenditure to the GDP and to the health expenditure’s share of the GDP are taken into account.
In the BICC research, the Middle East is ranked as the world’s most militarized region by a wide margin. In the 2012 report, every Middle Eastern state, excluding Qatar, were ranked in the top 40 world’s most militarized countries. Altogether five countries in the top 10 were Middle Eastern states.
In every GMI report, Israel is ranked as the most militarized country in the world. Based on the indicators laid out above, no country is close to Israel’s GMI score.
The mesh comprised of Israel’s military apparatus, related government branches and the domestic military industry is a unique entity. Enabled by the longest ongoing military occupation of the post-WWII era, Israel has built up its military-industrial complex to a magnitude that appears to be, according to the BICC research, unprecedented in the world.
Reflecting the exceptional depth of militarization of the Israeli society, Israel is also a major player in the arms exports market. At times ranked, in absolute terms, between the world’s fourth and sixth biggest arms exporter, Israel is in a category of its own in arms exports per GDP.
Consider a juxtaposition of the volume of military exports of Finland, on one hand, and that of Israel, on the other. The sizes of the economies of the two countries are almost identical, the GDP of Finland being slightly bigger. Furthermore, Finland is hardly a demilitarized country with mandatory military service for men, long-standing domestic military production and a ranking of 25th in the GMI listing.
The total Finnish arms exports in 2010 were $79 million. The same year, Israel exported military equipment for over $7.3 billion euros.
In other words, Israel, with a GDP smaller than that of Finland, exported more than 92 times more weaponry than Finland. The value of Israel’s weapons exports in 2010 was roughly twice the entire Finnish military budget.
The fact that most of the equipment produced by Israel’s weapons industry is exported emphasizes the international complicity in Israel’s breaches of international law. Without the eagerness of the EU and the US to purchase Israel’s occupation-powered military equipment exports for billions of US dollars annually, Israel would not be able to enjoy the current enormous profits from its illegal policies.
EU – Israel’s enthusiastic arms trading partner
Besides the US-Israeli commerce in arms, the EU is a significant partner of Israel in weapons trade. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, EU has imported Israeli occupation-powered military equipment for billions of dollars.
As for EU’s arms exports policy, the EU has adopted what’s known as EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. Article 2 of the Code, named “The respect of human rights in the country of final destination”, states that
“Member States will:
a) not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be
used for internal repression.
b) 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”
The criterion does not seem to leave too much room for interpretation. Nonetheless, the EU has exported military equipment to Israel for billions of dollars since the beginning of the Second Intifada.
In addition to US military aid to Israel and the EU-Israel bilateral trade, there are compelling grounds to identify the cozy relationship of the EU and the US to Israel’s military-industrial complex among primary forms of international collaboration with Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories and other war efforts.