28th Feb 2024


Suspend arms trade to Israel, campaigners told Spain

  • Thousands of Spaniards call for Gaza ceasefire in Santander, Spain (Photo: RESCOP)
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Spain faces criticism for buying and supplying weapons to Israel while publicly condemning its military operation in Gaza, with thousands of demonstrators set to take to the streets of over 100 Spanish cities on Saturday (20 January) to "stop the arms trade with Israel"

Following last week's legal hearings in the International Court of Justice's into the accusations of 'genocidal intent' brought against Israel by South Africa, protesters have demanded more political action from the Spanish government in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

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  • Protesters gathered in Alicante, Spain (Photo: RESCOP)

While Spain has been one of the most vocal European countries in criticising Israel's military campaign in Gaza, behind the scenes, Spain continues to arm and fund the military operation it theoretically opposes.

Spain is the world's seventh-biggest arms exporter — mainly for its role in arming Saudi Arabia's and the United Arab Emirates' attacks in Yemen.

Although Israel is not the main destination of Spanish arms, representing only 3.5 percent of all arms export licenses in 2020, the sum has increased in recent years, according to the research centre Delàs. Amnesty International revealed that Spain approved 22 arms exportation licenses to Israel worth €44m last year. These include fire control systems, aircraft equipment, bombs, torpedoes, and missiles.

Such exports, the Delàs centre argues, violate the EU Council position defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment, as well as the Geneva Conventions.

Spain did not deny any exports to Israel until 2015. Subsequently, five denials have been reported since then.

Arms imports

The scale of the ongoing Israeli offensive led the Spanish foreign affairs ministry to announce that exports to Israel would temporarily cease — though this is difficult to verify since decisions related to arms exports are protected under Franco's 1968 official secrets law.

"Israel is perhaps the only case in which, if you are not the US or, perhaps, Germany, acquiring arms from a country can be as controversial, if not more so, than selling them," says Delàs researcher and armed conflicts professor Alejandro Pozo.

Israel hosts the second-largest tech ecosystem just behind Silicon Valley, and it is home to 35 percent of the world's richest cyber start-ups.

"With the exceptions noted, Israel does not so much need to buy arms as to sell its own," says Pozo. "First, to make their expensive occupation and wars cheaper. Secondly, with its products, Israel also exports a model, which ends up being legitimized".

In the case of Spain, national media reported that, between 2011 and 2021, at least €268m was spent on Israeli military material.

A few days before Israel's military operation over Gaza started in response to Hamas terrorist attacks on 7 October, the Spanish defence ministry made official the acquisition of hundreds of missiles through the Israeli company Rafael. These spike missiles are being used in Gaza.

Pozo, who has been monitoring Spain-Israel's arms trade relations for years, told EUobserver that, they are aware of only a small portion of new public contracts have been signed with products and services made in Israel since 7 October.

"In Spain, in Europe, and the rest of the world, there is specific legislation related to arms exports, but not to arms imports. There is no obligation to publicly report on what Spain acquires from the Israeli arms industry," he said.

These weapons, Pozo argued, might also be produced within the purchasing nations, either through local manufacturing with technology transfer agreements from Israeli firms or via subsidiaries of these Israeli companies based in the purchasing countries.

NGOs' call

About 375 NGOs are calling on prime minister Pedro Sánchez's socialist party to stop the arms trade with Israel.

"We think this is very representative because it shows that the majority of the civil society agrees that arms trade with Israel should end," Alys Samson, spokesperson of the campaign "stop the arms trade with Israel", tells EUobserver.

A survey published in December found that 78 percent of Spanish people, and 88 percent of socialist party supporters, want to suspend arms trade with Israel. Sánchez's socialist party, however, has avoided endorsing the campaign.

"This government is fully aware of the need to be particularly vigilant and to apply the greatest possible rigour in operations targeting conflict areas or regions where human rights violations could occur," a spokesperson for the secretary of state in charge of commerce told EUobserver, adding that, in the case of Israel, "no weapons or equipment considered lethal have been authorized for final export."

"Spanish institutions and politicians in a way have indeed been some of the most outspoken in the European context" admits Alys, the campaign's spokesperson.

"It is intolerable that the so-called most progressive government that Spain has ever had has not endorsed South Africa's case at the ICJ. It is intolerable that Spain is still buying weapons from Israel, it should not buy nor sell," she added.

"Solidarity with Palestine cannot be limited to gestures" agrees researcher Alejandro Pozo. "States that are signatories to the various international agreements are obliged not only to comply with but also to enforce international law."

Spain may be the best-positioned Nato or EU country to impose an arms embargo with Israel, he said.

Author bio

Bianca Carrera is a freelance writer and analyst specialising in the Middle Eastern and North Africa, environmental matters, and migration at Sciences Po Paris. She has written for The New Arab, Al Jazeera, Oxfam Intermón,, and others.


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