How Israel makes money from blood

18 August,2013
Adapted from Al Jazeera

Israel’s economy is mostly dependent on the blood of Palestinians converting to money. Its defense industry is developing several strategies to develop new markets and expand the existing ones in Asian countries, especially India, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and Latin America.

A new documentary, called The Lab, released in July has led the way in turning the spotlight on Israel's arms industry. It claims that four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have become little more than guinea pigs in military experiments designed to enrich a new elite of arms dealers and former generals.

Yotam Feldman, director of The Lab and a former journalist with Israel's Haaretz newspaper, says, Israel has turned the occupied territories into a laboratory for refining, testing and showcasing its weapons systems.

Another analyst, Jeff Halper, who is writing a book on Israel's role in the international homeland security industry, said, "The occupied territiories are crucial as a laboratory not just in terms of Israel's internal security, but because they have allowed Israel to become pivotal to the global homeland security industry.

Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a former defence minister turned industry minister, attributes Israel's success to the fact that "people like to buy things that have been tested. If Israel sells weapons, they have been tested, tried out. We can say we've used this 10 years, 15 years."

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University, said: "You only have to read the brochures published by the arms industry in Israel. It's all in there. What they are selling is Israel's 'experience' and expertise gained from the occupation and its conflicts with its neighbours."

He said, “..the hegemonic states exert no real pressure on Israel to give up the occupied territories because of their mutually reinforcing interests."

Statistics of Israel’s arms trading

Israeli sales of weapons and military systems hit a record high last year of $7.5bn, up from $5.8bn the previous year. A decade ago, Israeli exports were worth less than $2bn.

Last year it earned nearly $1,000 from the arms trade per head of population - several times the per capita income the US derives from military sales.

Shemaya Avieli, the head of Sibat, the Israeli defence ministry's agency promoting arms exports, said at a press conference last month that the record figure had been a surprise given the "very significant economic challenge" posed by the worldwide economic downturn.

The arms-related trade is reported to account for somewhere between one-tenth and one-fifth of Israel's exports.

150,000 Israeli households - or about one in 10 people in the country - depend economically on its military industries, Ehud Barak, the defence minister in the previous Israeli government, has revealed. 

The country is now ranked as one of the world's largest arms exporters - a considerable achievement for a country smaller than New York. Its growing success at marketing its military wares to overseas buyers was highlighted in June when defence analysts Jane's ranked Israel in sixth place for arms exports, ahead of China and Italy, both major weapons producers.

However, the country's own figures, which include additional covert trade, place it in fourth place ahead of Britain and Germany, and surpassed only by the United States, Russia and France.

Report says that, arms sales have been steadily rising since 2002, when Israel reversed its withdrawals from Palestinian territory initiated by the Oslo accords. The Israeli army reinvaded the West Bank and Gaza in an operation known as Defensive Shield.

The biggest surge in the arms trade followed Operation Cast Lead, Israel's month-long attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09 that provoked international condemnation. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, as well as 13 Israelis. Sales that year reached $6bn for the first time.

Futuristic weapons and marketing strategy

Leo Gleser, who specialises in developing new weapons markets in Latin America, observes: "The [Israeli] defence minister doesn't only deal with wars, he also makes sure the defence industry is busy selling goods."

Many retired army officers moved into the new high-tech field. There they found a chance to test their security ideas, including developing systems for long-term surveillance, control and subjugation of "enemy" populations.

Halper believes that Israel has made itself useful to powerful states not just in terms of developing weapons systems, but by becoming particularly successful at what he terms "niche-filling".

"The United States, for example, knows better than anyone how to attack other countries, as it did with Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel can't teach it much on that score. But the US doesn't have much idea what to do after the attack, how to pacify the population. That is where Israel steps in and offers its expertise."

This point is underscored in The Lab. Its unlikeliest stars are former Israeli officers turned academics, whose theories have helped to guide the Israeli army and hi-tech companies in developing new military techniques and strategies much sought-after by foreign militaries.

Shimon Naveh, a military philosopher, is shown pacing through a mock Arab village that provided the canvas on which he devised a new theory of urban warfare to deal with the second Palestinian intifada, after it erupted in late 2000.

In the run-up to an attack in 2002 on Nablus' casbah, much feared by the Israeli army for its labyrinthine layout, he suggested that the soldiers move not through the alleyways, where they would be easy targets, but unseen through the buildings, knocking holes through the walls that separated the houses.

Naveh's idea became the key to crushing Palestinian armed resistance, exposing the only places - in the heart of overcrowded cities and refugee camps - where Palestinian fighters could still find sanctuary from Israeli surveillance.

Another expert, Yitzhak Ben Israel, a former general who is now a professor at Tel Aviv University, helped to develop a mathematical formula for the Israeli military that predicts the likely success of assassination programmes to end organised resistance.

Ben Israel's calculus proved to the army that a Palestinian cell planning an attack could be destroyed with high probability by "neutralising" as few as one-fifth of its fighters.

The Lab also underscores the Israeli arms industry's success in developing futuristic weapons, such as the gun that shoots around corners. The bullet-bending firearm caught Hollywood's attention, with Angelina Jolie wielding it - and effectively marketing it - in the 2008 film Wanted.

Feldman's film - which won an award at DocAviv, Israel's documentary Oscars - shows arms dealers, army commanders and government ministers speaking frankly about the way the trade has become the engine of Israel's economic success during the global recession.

The film highlights the kind of innovations for which Israel has been feted by overseas security services. It pioneered the airborne drones that are now at the heart of the US programme of extra-judicial executions in the Middle East.

Israel hopes to repeat that success with missile interception systems such as Iron Dome, which was much on display when rockets were fired out of Gaza during last year's Operation Pillar of Cloud.

This merging of theory, hardware and repeated "testing" in the field has had armies, police forces and the homeland security industries lining up to buy Israeli know-how, Feldman argues. The lessons learned in Gaza and the West Bank have also had applications in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A spokesman for the Israeli defence ministry said, "Our success in defence industries reflects the fact that Israel has had to be resourceful and creative faced with an existential threat for more than 60 years as well as a series of wars with the Arab world."

Hypocrisy of the international community

Yoav Galant, the head of the Israeli army's southern command during Cast Lead, however, criticises the double standards of the international community.

"While certain countries in Europe or Asia condemned us for attacking civilians, they sent their officers here, and I briefed generals from 10 countries," he says. "There's a lot of hypocrisy: they condemn you politically, while they ask you what your trick is, you Israelis, for turning blood into money."


(An  article adapted from Jonathan Cook's "Israel's booming secretive arms trade" published in Al Jazeera, with slight edition)


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