Under what circumstances are arms exports permitted and required? Clarification is needed beyond the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

An F-35 fighter jet in the dark.

Delivery of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel from the Netherlands is no longer allowed Photo: Belga/imago

Spain stops all arms exports to Israel. The Belgian region of Wallonia, where Belgium's arms factories are located, is revoking existing export licenses to Israel. And now a court in the Netherlands has ordered the government to revoke approval of planned deliveries of parts for the ultra-modern US F35 fighter jet to Israel.

The reasoning is similar everywhere: the risk that crimes could be committed with weapons is too great. This is supported by the conclusion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on January 26 that there is sufficient evidence to suspect that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Under current EU rules on arms exports, an export license must be refused “if there is a clear risk that military technology or military equipment intended for export will be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.” According to this criterion, in the current situation, all arms exports from EU countries to Israel should be stopped immediately. This requirement is also made in Germany.

The federal government rejects this, pointing to the right to self-defense and Germany's special obligation to Israel. Both positions have solid arguments in their favor. However, in Germany there is no political debate on this matter. Nor is any legal clarification attempted. As long as the mere representation of suspected genocide against Israel is branded as anti-Semitic in some quarters of politics, an open debate on the matter will likely be very difficult.

However, it is essential – beyond the case of Israel. The question of under what circumstances arms exports are permissible and necessary should be discussed beyond individual cases. So that the disastrous debates about Ukraine are not followed by disastrous debates about Israel.