Denmark, Israel and the Malleableness of Virtue 

By Wissam el-Khalil

With the world focused on the suffering of Palestinians as Israel disproportionately reacts to the attacks of October 7th, the Danish government continues to press the Israeli arms firm Elbit for the delivery of artillery systems and rocket launchers. With Elbit’s priority being the IDF, and the rest of the world concerned about respect for humanitarian law, it seems strange for such a virtuous country as Denmark to be so focused on delivery timescales…

There seems to be disconnect and contradiction in the actions of Danish government as it responds to the ongoing war in Gaza. The Danish government has generally taken a fairly pro-Israel stance, like many of its European counterparts. Danish Prime Minister, when asked about Palestinian casualties when she visited the Israeli embassy in Copenhagen to pay condolences to the Israeli victims of October 7th, sharply rebuked a reporter’s “sense of history,” when she was asked about the “civilian victims on the Palestinian side.” On October 22nd, she then published a long post online, outlining her thoughts on the deepening humanitarian crisis as Israel continued to pummel the Gaza strip in response to the October 7th Hamas massacre. “Im deeply affected by the many children in particular who have been affected. Israel must protect civilians according to international humanitarian law and we are sending more money from Denmark for humanitarian help,” she said. Frederiksen made it clear that she rejects “anyone who happens to cheer for the gruesome things happening to the Palestinians.” And yet, Frederiksen, like so many of her European colleagues, has remained suspicious of anyone rallying behind the Palestinian cause, and her sometimes confused reaction to the killing of people on both sides has seen her criticised by some Danish journalists. Denmark even abstained from a UN Resolution calling for the protection of civilians in Gaza, highlighting the disconnect between its rhetoric and its actions.

The PM’s ostensibly genuine concern for the plight of Palestinians is difficult to accommodate when one looks a little closer at recent actions of the Danish government, more specifically the Danish Ministry of Defence. For a real political scandal has been sweeping through the highest echelons of the government since the beginning of the year, one involving the highly problematic purchase of Israeli arms manufactured by Elbit Systems, a firm deeply entangled in the IDF’s shocking treatment of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. It seemed a strange time for Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen to check with Israel that the IDF’s operations in Gaza would not put back the delivery of the arms to Denmark, while the rest of the world was calling for Israeli restraint at the end of October. At this moment, bombs continued to fall on civilians and his own Prime Minister was calling it a humanitarian crisis. Superficial support or hidden agenda?

Israeli arms in Denmark

Since the beginning of the year, Danish publication Altinget has been running an investigation that has uncovered highly questionable actions at the heart of government and led to the resignation of the former Minister of Defence, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, who quit politics altogether at the end of October. The story has been focused on the awarding of an arms contract to Elbit Systems for a unit of ATMOS cannons and PULS rocket launchers, to replace the Danish armies reserve of CAESAR artillery pieces that have been sent to Ukraine.

The affair has centred on how the Danish Ministry of Defence and DALO, its Acquisition and Logistics Organisation (DALO – FMI in Danish), provided erroneous information to the Folketing’s Finance Committee that provided an unfair advantage the Israeli offer, when French firm Nexter and Korean firm Hanwha being left out in the cold. It transpired in a report written by Morton Bæk, former Head of Department at the Danish MD, provided false information to the committee, including deadlines for the reception of offers and incorrect operational requirements of the Danish army.

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One particular point underlines the opaque nature of the affair. The same DALO officer is said to have simultaneously negotiated, in January, the new purchase of equipment from Elbit and the end of the dispute that had been dragging on since 2015. This litigation allegedly followed the first attempt to sell the equipment that was cancelled by the then Danish government mainly as a result of strong protests from the Danish left. This was uncovered by Altinget, but was never shared in due time with the Finance Committee in the Folketing, adding yet another layer of opacity to the deal and leading to yet more questions about the motives within the Ministry of Defence.

Altinget’s investigation has led to questions being asked about processes at the highest levels of government, possible corruption, and certainly ethical impropriety. “It is clear that the Ministry of State and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were involved in a cover-up in which we received incorrect information,” said Danish People’s Party chairman Morten Messerschmidt. An independent investigation is ongoing, expected to reach a conclusion around April 2024. The whole affair has beleaguered Danish politics since the spring, and its reaction to the crisis in Gaza should be considered in this context.

Danish arms in Israel

Indeed, Denmark’s dubious relations with Israel and role in the ongoing crisis risks getting the country mixed up in serious questions about Israel’s abuses of international law as it targets civilians in Gaza with airstrikes. The recent weeks of massive airstrikes on Gaza have involved, among other things, the use of Danish military equipment. These airstrikes have already claimed thousands of civilian lives, and according to human rights groups, they may constitute war crimes, and Danish military equipment, including components on Israeli Air Force’s F-35 aircraft, has been used throughout the period of airstrikes in Gaza, as confirmed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to Information and Danwatch. “We can confirm that the F-35 has operated in the Gaza Strip throughout the operation since October 7, 2023,” the IDF stated.

Marc Schack, a lecturer in international law at the University of Copenhagen, believes that these arms exports could potentially be in defiance of international law and place the Danish Ministry of Defence in hot waters. ”There are now very serious accusations that Israel is committing war crimes, and the severity of the situation highlights how Denmark is taking a legal risk when allowing the export of weapon parts to a country where it is well-known that there are challenges in complying with the laws of war,” he said.

Links to war crimes?

Poulsen’s eagerness to speed up the delivery of the artillery and rocket systems purchased from Elbit at the beginning of the year just underlines yet more contradictions in Denmark’s relations with Israel. Relations between the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Israeli firm have for some time be shrouded in a veil of opacity, which has led Altinget to look further into the lack of information provided to the Folketing and Denmark’s apparent apathy towards human rights abuses committed by the IDF using Elbit equipment.

“In this way, one can say that Elbit Systems’ production and export are a result of the Israeli occupation. And it’s not just about drones and bullets. Elbit Systems specializes in surveillance equipment that allows the control and monitoring of unwanted population groups or areas. The crowd control equipment means that Israel’s armed forces can quickly suppress protests.” said Leila Stockmarr, who previously served as a temporary member of the Danish Parliament for the Red-Green Alliance believes. “The Israeli occupation is, according to the Geneva Conventions, illegal… Systems that contribute to maintaining the occupation contribute to the illegality because they help make the occupation permanent.

On the political side, there have been a fairly strong repercussions thanks to the Altinget revelations compared to in the spring. But political parties seem more focused on criticising the failure to respect the rules governing relations between the executive and parliament than about the scandalous nature of the Elbit deal. This is a far cry from the political mobilisation against the deal back in 2015 that defeated it at the first hurdle, which was more in line with the ethical approach for which this country is renowned. Many fear now that the investigation, which has struggled to get off the ground, will not really get to the heart of the matter.

Image: Elbit Systems/YouTube screenshot

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