Billions of $$ of Israeli arms sales, secrecy over who's buying

January 9, 2014
Sarah Benton

Israel reveals more than $7 billion in arms sales, but few names

UN lists at least 20 countries that have purchased weapons from Israel, but are missing from the Defense Ministry report.

By Gili Cohen, Ha’aretz
January 09, 2014

Elbit’s Hermes 900 drone
Elbit’s Hermes 900 drone. Photo by Elbit Systems

The government on Wednesday released a very partial list of the recipients of Israeli arms sales over the past two years, saying that Israeli weapons had been sold to Spain, the United States, Kenya, South Korea and the United Kingdom in 2011 and 2012.

The list did not include the many other states that have independently claimed to have purchased defense equipment from Israel.

The information was published in response to a court order to reveal arms sales information following a freedom of information petition from an Israeli lawyer. Israel does not normally name the states to which it sells arms and the state had previously refused to publish the information based on “security concerns.”

The state disclosed the information on Wednesday after six months of legal maneuvering. Among the previously unreleased details about Israel’s weapons exports were: In 2012, Israel had weapons deals worth $3.83 billion with Asian and Pacific states, deals worth $1.73 billion with European states, a deal worth $1.1 billion with the U.S. and deals worth $604 million and $107 million with African and Latin American states respectively.

According to the government, Wednesday’s information is based on the yearly report it makes to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, which receives voluntary reports from various nations on their conventional weapons imports and exports. The five states listed by the government reported the weapons deals with Israel to the UN, and thus the Israeli government was willing to disclose their identities.

“The other states that purchased security equipment from Israel chose not to report to the Register, or make official announcements of any kind, and thus the Defense Ministry cannot reveal their names due to foreign policy and national security concerns,” the state said.

However, a Haaretz investigation has revealed numerous deals that were reported to the UN but not disclosed by the Defense Ministry in response to the court order. For example, in 2012, Israel sold numerous “Spike” anti-tank missiles to Chile, but did not report the number of missiles sold. During that same year, Israel also sold 47 9mm pistols and 5,700 assault rifles to Mexico.

Between 1992 and 2009, Israel did report on its weapons exports, but only partially. In 2009, Israel reported that it sold 18 120mm mortars and three truck-mounted weapon systems to Uganda. During that same year, Israel sold 12 81 mm mortars to Botswana, and 33 mortars to Colombia. Israel also sold 30 automated 120 mm Cardom mortar systems to Portugal and as 57 120mm mortar systems to the U.S.

Israel’s weapons exports during those years were worth far more than what was reported to the UN, which means most of the deals went unreported. In many cases, it was the purchasing nations, rather than Israel, that reported the deals, such as Peru, which received 516 Spike missiles, and 48 missile launchers from Israel in 2009.

The UN reporting system also sheds light on Israel’s weapons exports over the last two decades. In the past twenty years, Israel has sold 17 tanks, 74 armed vehicles, over 8,600 artillery systems, 37 planes, ten warships, and roughly 2,500 missiles and missile launchers. This is only a partial list, as it is based on voluntary reports from various nations, including Chad, Rwanda, Lesotho, Kazakhstan, Romania, Chile, Brazil, Italy, the U.S., Vietnam, Cameroon, Uganda, India, Mexico, Spain, and Turkey.

According to figures presented to the Knesset’s state control committee by the Defense Ministry’s export supervisions division, roughly 8,000 export licenses are granted per year, meaning that Israel exports around 8,000 weapons every year.

Attorney Itai Mack, who filed the petition that led to the court order, maintains that defense exports should be public knowledge. “Early on, the government was unable to say anything, making blanket claims that could not be refuted. As time passes, we see that there are more and more details that can be revealed, and the government was simply hiding them to prevent public discourse,” said Mack.

Defense Ministry officials say they do not know why the UN website has not been updated with the frequent reports that were made to the UN over the years. The UN website lists information until late 2012, including additional reports from countries that purchased weapons from Israel. A Defense Ministry official stated that “Israel’s reports to the UN never ceased, and have been uninterrupted since 1992.”

Before its announcement Wednesday, the state said that it had “reevaluated the possibility of disclosing the names of states or organizations that receive defense equipment.”

Who does Israel sell arms to? The Defense Ministry won’t tell

Even though most of them are already known, Israel refuses to disclose the full list of recipients to avoid a debate over the morality of selling arms to autocratic regimes.

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz
January 09, 2014

The Defense Ministry objects to any transparency or openness about Israeli arms sales, despite the serious failures that have recently been revealed in its export control department, as reported in Haaretz by Gili Cohen, and the recent forced resignation of department head Meir Shalit. The ministry almost always refrains from launching criminal investigations of exporters who break the law, preferring to settle the cases with administrative fines – or in other words, behind closed doors in the Defense Ministry, without anything being revealed.

Now, the ministry is fighting a petition to the court by attorney Eitay Mack seeking publication of the names of the countries that bought arms from Israel. Its excuse, as always, is that this secrecy is necessary for security: The customers demand it, and if they don’t get it, Israel’s defense exports will be harmed. The customers can’t be asked to confirm this, since their names are classified, so the court is simply being asked to trust the ministry and reject the petition.

The ministry’s response to the court – that Israel sold arms in 2011-12 to the United States, Spain, Kenya, Britain and South Korea, but its other customers can’t be named – seems like a bad joke. First, the ministry itself boasts of the great achievements of Israel’s defense industry and the billions of dollars of business it does worldwide. Second, every international defense journal or website reports at length on the deals of Israel’s defense companies.

But you don’t even have to rely on media reports: Just a few months ago, an official British government report revealed a much longer list of countries that bought weaponry from Israeli companies. To get permits to buy British components for their products, the Israeli companies had to tell the British authorities which country was buying the product.

The British report, covering the years 2008-12, listed India, Singapore, Turkey, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Portugal, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Holland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Macedonia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Switzerland, Ecuador, Mexico, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, Argentina and Egypt as Israeli customers. Even countries that have no official relations with Israel appeared on the list: Pakistan, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. The report also said Britain refused to approve components for products destined for Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. In total, that’s 41 countries, and there are others not listed in the British report.

The Defense Ministry wants to conceal the full list to avoid a public debate over the morality of selling arms to dictatorial regimes, as well as over the worrying failures of its export control division. The court must demand hard evidence that publishing the names of these countries – most of which are known anyway – will really undermine national security, and not just the bureaucratic convenience of ministry inspectors.

Israel operates outside all arms control laws, July 2013
Scrutiny of Arms Exports and Arms Control (2013) Report This link provides links to a variety of parliamentary/committee reports on arms sales and controls.

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