How the EU subsidises Israel’s military-industrial complex

The EU is providing generous R&D (research and development) subsidies to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli ‘drones’ and other ‘battlefield solutions’. Some of the grants are for IAI to adapt its killer robots for use within the EU. 

Ben Hayes
6 March 2013

Regardless of where you stand on Israel-Palestine, things have surely gone awry in Brussels for the EU to be providing generous R&D (research and development) subsidies to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli ‘drones’ and other ‘battlefield solutions’. Some of the grants are for IAI to adapt its killer robots for use within the EU. It’s a wonder David Cameron didn’t mention it in his crusade against the EU budget. Perhaps not: but how does EU tax-payers hard-earned cash end up in the hands of the Israeli war machine?

EU research subsidies to Israel

The EU’s framework research programme is the biggest single R&D budget in the world. The current “FP7” programme (2007-2013) has a budget of €51 billion; the next programme, “Horizon 2020” (2014-2020), will have somewhere between €70 and €80 billion. Israel joined the European Research Area in 1995 under the terms of a remarkably generous EC “association agreement” and participates in the framework programmes on the same footing as EU member states. This means it puts up some of the money (each participating state pays a proportion based on its GDP) and is eligible to apply for the funds on offer. With its buoyant R&D sector, few states have been as successful in landing EU grants as Israel (which is thus a net recipient of EU research funds) and the EU is now second only to the Israeli Science Foundation in Jerusalem as a source of domestic research funding.

Israel Aerospace Industries has been a principle beneficiary of the EU’s largesse. Established in 1957 upon recommendation of Shimon Perez, then Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, IAI is now a world leader in the booming drone market, producing the Heron, Hunter and Ghost, among many others - in 2010 its total annual revenues topped the $3 billion mark. Since Israel joined the European Research Area, IAI has landed at least 69 EU research grants. Because the European Commission is ostensibly prohibited from funding military R&D, most of these grants have come from the transport and aerospace budgets, where military and defence contractors play a leading role in developing new materials for aircraft and more efficient engines as part of the EU’s “clean skies” programme. The EU has also ploughed money into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs/drones), which it wants to see introduced into commercial airspace as soon as practicably possible.

Since the EU launched the dedicated “security research” component of the FP7 programme, funding has poured directly into Israel’s defence and homeland security sectors. Among dozens of EU-funded UAV projects, IAI landed contracts to develop drones for European security agencies to “autonomously” stop “illegal migrants” and “non-cooperative vehicles”, whatever that entails. Meanwhile Israel’s Verint Systems, one of the world’s largest surveillance contractors, is leading a project to bring “Total Airport Security” to European airports; its consortium includes Elbit Systems, another massive defence conglomerate, which helped construct and maintain Israel’s illegal “Separation Wall”. Other recipients of EU security grants include Motorola Israel (producer of “virtual fences” around Israeli settlements), Aeronautics Defense Systems (another Israeli drone manufacturer specialising in "networked warfare") and the Israel Counter-Terrorism and Security Academy (which is helping the EU with its “counter-radicalisation” strategy). As FP7 draws to a close having already funded over 200 security research projects, one in five contracts includes an Israeli security partner.

An ethical void 

The European Union has expressed “concern” about Israel’s “targeted killings” and the Separation Wall, and “condemned” new Israeli settlements. So should it be funding the very companies that sustain these unlawful activities? Ask the relevant European Commission officials and they will simply point to the EU-Israel cooperation agreement with one hand (i.e. don’t blame us) and the independent evaluation of EU research proposals with the other (i.e. Israel is actually rather good at security technology).

So what about the ethical standards governing EU research funding? The problem here is that these do not address the ethical standing of the researchers, only the ethical issues raised by the research. Put simply, this means that as long as they’re not developing GM foods or stem cells etc., or testing their wares on children or animals, there’s no case to answer where the participation of the Israeli war industry is concerned.

What about the supposed EU prohibition of “dual use” research - shouldn’t this prevent the funding of research with potential military spin-offs? Unfortunately the EU security research programme is predicated on the adaptation of military technology for “civil” security purposes, rendering “dual use” largely impotent in the face of considerable subsidies for defence contractors diversifying into all things Homeland Security: border control, counter-terrorism, infrastructure protection, mass surveillance and so on.

So here is the question we should be asking: why on earth is “democratic”, non-militarist Europe so keen to import Israel’s hyper-militaristic security architecture in the first place? Terrorists, illegal migrants, or the future threat to social order posed by their own citizens?

Towards “Horizon 2020”

Regardless, we cannot rely on the European Commissioner for Research or Members of the European Parliament to address the obvious problems with the existing EU framework – the former has repeatedly declared herself satisfied that there is no moral, legal or ethical case to answer in respect to the likes of IAI; the latter, with a few honourable exceptions, have simply ignored the pleas and complaints of NGOs and campaigners. Nevertheless, the preparations for “Horizon 2020”, which will begin in 2014, provide an important opportunity to reflect on the plans that are under way.

It is clear that without changes to the status quo, things will get a lot worse (or better if you happen to be an Israeli security contractor). First, the security research budget is set to grow from €1.4 billion in FP7 to as much as €4.1 billion under Horizon 2020 (the exact figure is not known because the legislation is still under negotiation). Second, the EU is strongly prioritising research that can be monetarised, so there will be a lot more subsidies for industry and less for the fluffy stuff like social science, which while creating knowledge for human development, rarely helps the corporate bottom line. Third, with the global market for Homeland Security now reportedly worth $100 billion-a-year, EU security research appears certain to escape the cuts secured by the likes of David Cameron. Fourth, there is a tangible culture of cooperation between the European and Israeli security research elite, with the former assuming that participation of the latter enhances their funding prospects.

Campaign challenge

In this climate the only challenge to EU-Israeli security cooperation is coming from the bottom-up. In the UK, following a campaign by Palestinian solidarity groups and the National Union of Students, Kings College and the Natural History Museum expressed regret at their EU-funded partnership with Ahava, whose Dead Sea Laboratories are based in an illegal Israeli settlement.

Last week I spoke to students at the prestigious Catholic University of Leuven, where activists have launched a campaign against its partnership with IAI in five EU-funded projects. Their tenacity means there is every chance that Leuven will, in the next few months, commit to excluding Israel’s defence and security industry from future partnerships. Similar campaigns are under way in other universities across Europe.

Of course it would be far better for the EU to simply demonstrate the “leadership” and “even-handed” approach to Israel-Palestine it has long promised by simply changing the rules of its research programme. Until then, there is every likelihood that the Nobel Peace Prize will come back to haunt us. 

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