Espanol / English

Middle East Near You

Tested in Gaza: How Europe uses Israel war technology against refugees

A Hellenic coast guard rescues refugees and migrants on a dinghy as they try to reach the Greek island of Lesbos while crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on September 29, 2015 [ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images]
A Hellenic coast guard rescues refugees and migrants on a dinghy as they try to reach the Greek island of Lesbos while crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on September 29, 2015 [ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images]

The border control industry is thriving, both in the United States and Europe. In both cases, Israel is serving the task of the successful role model and the technology supplier.

While Europe, in particular, has paid much lip service to urging Israel to use proportionate force against Palestinians and to ease the Gaza siege – which has been in place for over 11 years – it is one of the main markets for Israeli war and security technology.

This should evoke more than mere accusations of European duplicity. Israeli technology is now invading European borders, with the consent, if not total enthusiasm, of rising far-right governments and officials.

If this trend continues, Europe will soon find itself applying total Israeli border control mechanisms – as inhumane and often brutal as they are – to the desperate migrants and refugees, often escaping Western-instigated wars, and seeking better lives on the continent.

READ: Belgium PM resigns after signing UN migration deal in Morocco

A recent conference held on 9-10 December in Morocco was a platform for Western doublespeak and hypocrisy.

150 nations signed the “Global Compact for Migration” (GCM) agreement, which called for the implementation of more humane policies to ensure “safe, orderly and regular migration”.

Many nations, especially in Europe, mask their anti-refugees policies in the guise of ensuring refugees’ “safety”. This is a particularly popular slogan among the European far- right. However, some governments still found the terms of the agreement objectionable. They include Israel, the US, Belgium, Hungary, Italy, among others.

But what did these governments find disagreeable about respecting the basic human rights and dignity of refugees and migrants?

“We have a duty to protect our borders against illegal infiltrators,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement to the press recently. “That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we will ceuontinue to do,” he added, as reported in the Times of Israel.

A South Sudanese refugee holds up his national flag as he is held alongside other refugees at a detention centre in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, on June 11, 2012. (Photo by OREN ZIV/AFP/GettyImages)

A South Sudanese refugee holds up his national flag as he is held alongside other refugees at a detention centre in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, on June 11, 2012. (Photo by OREN ZIV/AFP/GettyImages)

It is common knowledge that Israel is a state that discriminates against the indigenous Palestinian population, based on race and religion. In recent years, a flow of African migrants, who try to seek asylum in Israel through the Sinai border, has added yet a new component to Israeli racism, one that is based purely on colour.

Last March, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel called black people “monkeys”, using the Hebrew equivalent of the N-word during his weekly sermon. Netanyahu, along with other Israeli officials, has joined the racist tirade on many occasions. “The ‘flood’ of migrants from Africa is ‘much worse’ than acts of terrorism emanating from Sinai”, he said.

This racist discourse is increasingly finding its match among the European far right.

It was no surprise, then, to find Salvini, the rising star of what can be considered Italy’s neo-Fascist movement, a welcome guest in Israel.

READ: Italy’s Salvini said what the international community knows it can’t say: ‘Support Israel’

In his first visit to Tel Aviv in March 2016, where he attempted to whitewash his reputation of racism and anti-Semitism – which has been historically associated with Italy’s far right – Salvini commended Israel as “the perfect balance of different realities, while ensuring law and order. It surely is a role model for security and anti-terrorism policies.”

Salvini’s political fortunes have shifted since then, where he, as of June 2018, has become Italy’s new Interior Minister and, arguably, the most powerful politician in that country.

Thus, when he returned to Israel on a recent visit, his “friendship” and affinity with Netanyahu was a source of pride for both of them.

His trip to Israel on 11-12 December came right after the Marrakesh conference, where both countries also joined efforts in combating policies that urge “safe” and dignified migration.

Of course, neither Salvini nor Netanyahu had much interest in discussing the root causes of the refugee and migrant crises – and why should they, since both countries have been, invariably, involved in creating these crises in the first place.

Still, they had much to discuss.

The Lifeline is the second charity ship that Italy has shut out of its ports this month after the new anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said private rescue vessels would no longer be welcome [Twitter]

Italy is one of several European countries that are keenly interested in Israel’s border security, which is supplementing their own militarised border strategies that have been in place for years.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) has been at the forefront of employing military technology for civilian purposes, despite the obvious implications of such a policy on the erosion of civil liberties and fundamental human rights.

Unfortunately, the European debate on this issue has been settled in favour of the “security” enthusiasts. Just a few years ago, the discussion on the possibility of using drones to control migration and refugee routes took centre stage in European media and political circles.

At the time, many argued that such technology could infringe on fundamental rights, such as privacy, right to seek asylum – which is protected under international law – freedom of movement, and so on.

READ: A common Enemy: Why Israel is embracing fascism in Europe

Now, the deployment of military drones is a matter of course, as the national security discourse has prevailed as a top priority in people’s minds, thanks to fear-mongering and divisive politics.

No other country is as versed on manipulating the term “security” as Israel, which is now exploiting the security-obsessed European mindset in order for it to expand its military market outreach.

According to the Israeli Ynet News, Israel is the seventh largest arms exporter in the world, and is emerging as a leader in the global export of aerial drones.

In fact, the Israeli “international defense electronics company”, Elbit Systems Ltd., describes itself as “a prominent authority within the field of avionic & airborne equipment”.  Europe, as the US before, is convinced by the company’s credentials, as it has recently enlisted Elbit’s services at the price of $68 million.

READ: Banking giant HSBC divests from Israel arms manufacturer

According to the new contract, Elbit will supply maritime unmanned aircraft system (UAS) patrol services – operating Hermes 900 maritime patrol – for the European Maritime Safety Agency which, in turn, will make the new technology available to members of the European Union.

Israel is keen on increasing its share of the flourishing global “border control” business, which is thriving beyond all expectations.

In 2009, the total global market share of border control security business was estimated at anywhere between six to eight billion Euros. This number, however, is likely to increase manifold, reaching 50 billion Euros in 2022.

It is ironic – and quite telling – that the companies that are responsible for much of the weapons market in the Middle East, are the same companies that are earning massive income from developing the technologies needed to stave off the refugee flow resulting from war.

READ: Libya migrants suffer ‘unimaginable horrors’ including gang rape, says UN

While these companies are aiding the systematic destruction of entire Middle Eastern countries, they are contributing towards the increasingly popular notion of protecting “Fortress Europe”.

Not surprisingly, Israel is at the forefront of this alarming phenomenon.

Israel, however, has an edge over its competitors. The Israeli brand is particularly popular because its technology is “combat-proven”. Indeed, the Israeli military has had ample opportunity to test its diverse weapons and security cache against Palestinian civilians.

For example, the “Airbus Maritime Heron” Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) was selected by FRONTEX in daily security and coastal guard missions, maintenance and more. This technology was also used in the recent past by the Greek government to perform marine patrol and coastal guard missions in the Aegean to control migration and refugee sea routes.

But this increasingly popular Israeli technology has been used before, specifically in two Israeli wars on the besieged Gaza Strip in 2008-9 and, again, in 2014. Thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, perished in these two brutal wars, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” and “Operation Protective Edge”. The death toll included over 700 children.

Similar technologies, mostly provided by Elbit Systems, are now deployed at Europe’s southern borders. Hermes 450 and Hermes 900, used mercilessly in Gaza, are the leading tools through which Europe is now responding to the refugee crisis. An article, published in DefenseNews.com, entitled “Israeli Forces Praise Elbit UAVs in Gaza” was removed soon after it appeared, detailing how the weapons were used successfully against Palestinians in the Strip. However, a version of the article is still available at ISM Italia.

What is enabling such cooperation and empowering Israel’s new role as Europe’s protector is the harmony between the far-right, pro-Israel political discourse and the far-right popular movements that are plaguing Europe.

While the new political environment will bode badly for Europe’s future, it is a reality that suits Israel only too well, not only because it is consistent with its anti-migrant, anti-Muslim agenda, but also because it is a splendid opportunity to expand the market of its “combat proven” weapons.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

Categories
AfricaArticleAsia & AmericasEUEurope & RussiaInternational OrganisationsIsraelItalyMexicoMiddle EastOpinionPalestine