TU Delft and the Israeli arms connection

[Presentation at teach-in at TU Delft, 3 November 2023] The Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) is cooperating with a major Israeli arms company, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and several universities that have close relations with the Israeli armed forces. It also has a longstanding agreement with US company Lockheed Martin, the largest arms producer in the world, about work on the new fighter jet F35, which is also in use by Israel.

Many universities cooperate with the arms industry or military and security forces. Like other Dutch technical universities the TU Delft has many permanent ties with arms companies. It is for example close to two of the largest EU arms companies, which also have locations in The Netherlands: Airbus and Thales. Relations with them are being intensified. Last January Thales opened a new office next to the university. According to the CEO of Thales Netherlands this is the ideal location for sharing knowledge with its regular partner TU Delft. And in April the university and Airbus concluded a new five year cooperation agreement on research, training, recruitment and so on. Both companies are also always present at the annual Delft Career Days, to recruit new employees.

Cooperation between universities and arms companies can take a lot of forms and be about many issues. From the development of new arms and military technologies to working together on questions of military strategy to research into behaviour and psychology relating to combat, all with the goal of striving for more effective and efficient warfare. With this universities are a part of a military-industrial-academic complex. In this way they contribute to murder, violence, human rights abuses, repression, destruction, environmental degredation, climate change, imperialism, poverty and other crises around the world, at the expense of social and environmental spending and research and efforts for justice, dialogue and peace. They provide the arms industry and militaries with a kind of ‘scientific cover’, legitimizing their existence and lethal practices. There is also a lot of very critical research happening at universities, but that doesn’t make such ties any less problematic.

The Israeli arms industry

The Israeli arms industry occupies an unique position on the global military and security market. Irsaeli arms companies are the only ones that consequently promote their equipment and services as ‘combat proven‘, ‘battle tested’ or other variations of this. Cooperating closely with the Israeli Defence Forces these companies use Palestina as an open air test lab for the development of new arms and technologies. Advertising on the backs of dead and injured people the Israeli arms industry has built up a reputation as a world leader on for example armed drones, missiles and surveillance and espionage technology.

Apart from providing the tools for the Israeli policies of occupation, apartheid and destruction, this industry also exports its arms to countries all over the world, with no regard for their involvement in war, internal armed conflicts, repression and human rights violations and ignoring international arms embargoes. Large clients include such controversial destinations as Azerbaijan, Columbia,, Mexico, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. Nuclear weapons country India is by far its largest customer, while the so-called ‘normalisation’ of Israel’s relations with Arabic countries has opened up the highly profitable Western Asia military market in recent years as well.

In 2022 Israeli arms exports increased to a value of $12.5 billion. Israel was the ninth largest arms exporting country in the world over the last decade. For reference: the United States are by far the largest arms exporter, The Netherlands is at position eleven in this list.

In particular in recent years the Dutch armed forces and police have become important clients for the Israeli arms industry as well. The army purchased missile systems, smart vests for soldiers, tactical computers for army vehicles and anti-drone systems from Elbit, Israel’s largest arms company, from which the national police also bought a tapping system.

In the same way it promotes its arms Israel’s military and security industry also takes a leading role on border security and control, pointing to its experiences with the wall in the West Bank and the fence around Gaza. In a bid for European border security contracts, Saar Koush, then CEO of Magal Security, the company that built the wall in the West Bank, once said: “Anybody can give you a very nice Powerpoint, but few can show you such a complex project as Gaza that is constantly battle-tested.

On EU level border guard agency Frontex, responsible for violence, illegal pushbacks and other human rights violations against refugees, uses Israeli drones for surveillance flights on the Mediterranean to detect and stop refugee boats. Data about their positions are also shared with for example the Libyan coast guard, which then pulls them back to Libya where people on the move end up in the notorious detention centres, and maybe in the future also with Egypt, as one of the first responses from the EU to the situation in Gaza was pushing for a new migration cooperation agreement with the Sisi-regime to keep Palestinian refugees away from Europe.

TU Delft cooperation with Israeli arms companies

TU Delft is or has been cooperating with Israel’s second largest arms company, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in nine research and development projects, funded under the EU Framework Programmes. These seven year programmes are the main EU R&D funding instruments. The current cycle, Horizon Europe, runs from 2021 to 2027 and up untill now includes two joint IAI – TU Delft (and others) projects.

With their nine collaborations TU Delft is among the top five partners of IAI, signaling that this an important relationship. All the cooperation projects are in principle for civil aviation purposes. It has to be noted though that the lines between what is explicitly civil, what is security and what is military are increasingly vague and blurred, but even if these projects would be of a strict civil nature cooperation with a major provider of arms for what has now severly escalated in Gaza but has been going on for decades crosses a clear red line in itself. IAI supplies for example drones, other aircraft and missiles to the Israelian army and is also responsible for the Iron Dome anti-missile system that should intercept for example the rockets fired from Gaza.

Israeli universities and the military

Israeli universities are also part of the highly militarised Israelian society and many have close ties with armed and security forces and the arms industry, mainly on issues of research and development of new weapons and military and security technologies.

According to research by ECCP, the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine, “Israeli security forces have become increasingly dependent on high-tech devices from Israeli universities. New technologies help Israel to impose its Occupation with fewer soldiers, while also providing new export products for Israel’s security industry. Collaboration with the arms industry has come from the Technion in Haifa, the Weizman Institute in Rehovot, the Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University.”

Next to this technical military and security work, universities have also been complicit in devising military strategies. The Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank affiliated with the Tel Aviv University, for example has supported the development of the Dahiya Doctrine, which has again been in the news a lot recently as the strategy Israel now follows in Gaza. According to an analyst of this institute, “the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes.” The doctrine been described by a United Nations factfinding mission as “the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.”

TU Delft ties with Israeli universities

TU Delft is or has been cooperating with all the five universities mentioned by the ECCP. Part of this is again based on partnerships for the implementation of EU funded research and development projects, as was the case with the cooperation with IAI. However, there are more continuous ties as well, in particular with Technion. Technion is Israel’s primary technical university, based in Haifa. According to the ECCP, “the institute conducts a wide variety of research into technology and weapons used to oppress and attack Palestinians. For example, Technion researchers have developed special unmanned vehicles that aid the Israeli army in carrying out demolitions of Palestinian houses. By knowingly developing technology used in house demolitions, Technion is actively and directly complicit in the violations of international law. The institute also provides special tailored courses and programs for military officials and Israeli arms company executives. Technion has a history of deep collaboration with Elbit Systems, including receiving research grants and opening a joint research centre.”

In spite of this, in terms of its scientific standing, Technion regularly figures in lists of the top academic institutions in the world. For many universities all over the world it is a well regarded cooperation partner. There is for example even a ‘Technion Society of The Netherlands’, promoting the university in The Netherlands, where it cooperates with several universities. They rather ignore its significant role in building up Israel’s military capacities and its war and oppression machine, as do all these other universities worldwide which work together with Technion. A fact that is not overlooked by students and staff at a lot of these universities, cooperation with Technion has been a target of action many times, with campaigns demanding boycotts and the severing of all ties.

Cooperation between Technion and TU Delft goes back decades, as shown by a report about a study tour to Israel in 1984, organised by the Society of Aerospace Students ‘Leonardo da Vinci’, which still exists. The tour was inspired by a visit from the president of Technion to the Department of Aerospace Engineering and included an opening seminar at Technion, as well as visits to major arms companies, including IAI. After the “most enjoyable” tour the participants concluded that there is “a very close relationship between the Technion and the Israeli industry” and that the “biggest single driving force behind” this industry is “the country’s need to maintain effective defence”. In other words: it seems nothing has changed.

Over the last decade, as documents obtained through the Freedom of Information request by Student for Palestine and The Rights Forum show, TU Delft and Technion have signed several cooperation agreements. Most of these focus on student exchanges, but there is a broader context. In 2009 the two universities concluded a Memorandum of Understanding, stating that they “seek to expand scholarly ties, facilitate academic cooperation, increase educational opportunities, enrich the eductional environment and promote international and inter-cultural understanding.” The Memorandum doesn’t mention anything about for example human rights or limiting cooperation for military or security purposes

F-35 internship programme

So, TU Delft directly cooperates with Israeli military and security partners, in particular Israel Aerospace Industries and the Technion university. There is more indirect, but not less relevant, involvement as well. The most important aspect of this is TU Delft’s role in the development of the F-35 nuclear capable fighter jet, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. The faculty of Aerospace Engineering has a longstanding cooperation with Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world and the main producer of the F-35. Every year students at this faculty do internships at the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme, where they contribute to the development and production of this aeroplane. The Dutch air force spends billions of euros to buy 52 F-35s, which are gradually being acquired, to replace the F16 and to be able to be active in the so-called ‘highest spectrum of violence’ in warfare, such as large-scale attack missions.

Like The Netherlands, Israel is also one of the buyers of the F-35 and industrial partners in its development and production programme. Even more so, Israel was the first country to actually use the fighter jet in combat, in 2018 in Syria, attacking Iranian targets. Now, the Israelian army also uses them in attacks on Gaza. Of course, the TU Delft hasn’t commented on its involvement in this. And the students doing the internships at Lockheed Martin seem to be completely enchanted by the technical aspects of the projects.

There are many more more indirect ties with the Israeli military-industrial complex. Airbus is for example cooperating with IAI on drones, while Thales Netherlands produced GILL anti-tank missiles together with Rafael, another large Israeli arms company.

In many countries, including in The Netherlands, there have been calls for universities to stop their cooperation with Israeli arms companies, universities involved in military work and military and security forces.

On a broader scale students and staff at many universities all over the world have been campaigning against for example cooperation with and investments in arms companies or involvement in border militarisation. In the UK the Divest Borders campaign from People and Planet announced earlier this week that three universities have recently excluded the border industry from their investment portfolios. And in Germany, mostly based on work by the large peace movement in the 1980s, many universities still uphold a voluntary ‘civil clause‘, stating that they refrain from participation in military-related research projects.

A lot of this info is based on research that Stop Wapenhandel has done over the years, but also on documents that were obtained by Students for Palestine and the Rights Forum via Freedom of Information requests to all Dutch universities.