Israeli arms companies promote their products as “combat proven.” That choice of words suggests Israel’s ability to test weapons on Palestinians has become a selling point. Such a ploy was in evidence following Israel’s 51-day attack on Gaza last year. Once the attack had been completed, Israel’s arms industry rushed to try and impress prospective clients by telling them that new drone technology had been showcased during it.
While drawing attention to the effectiveness of its weapons may have filled the order books of Israeli arms companies in the recent past, it now seems that growing public opposition to the brutal oppression of Palestinians is starting to hit Israel’s military exports. The heads of Israel’s four biggest arms companies have written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to notify him that Israeli military exports have declined from $7.5 billion in 2012 to $5.5 billion in 2014. These exports could fall as low as $4 billion this year, according to their letter.
The arms dealers cite “less desire for Israeli-made products” as one of the factors causing this dramatic drop. An urgent meeting with Netanyahu has been sought to address what they say is “a significant crisis in the defense industries.”
This seems to be an admission that at least some governments around the world are becoming more wary of buying Israeli weapons.
The international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel has put significant pressure on governments and companies to end their cooperation with the state’s military-industrial complex in recent years. The governments of Norway and Turkey have both restricted their trade in weapons with Israel in recent years, although loopholes have allowed some of this business to continue in a non-transparent fashion.
Calls for an end to both weapons exports to and imports from Israel were a key feature of the massive mobilizations that took place during the 51-day attack on Gaza last year. During that period, the Spanish government suspended arms exports to Israel and the UK government held a review into arms export licenses covering Israel.
Neither of these steps materialized into lasting policy shifts. But the fact that these governments felt a need to address public disquiet was surely significant. In April this year, the British bank Barclays appeared to divest from the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems following a high-profile campaign that saw direct action protests at its branches across more than 15 cities.
A number of other European banks and pension funds have also divested from Elbit in response to an international campaign led by the Palestinian group Stop the Wall. The UK, France and some other European states decided not to take part in a military fair in Tel Aviv earlier this year.
In 2014, the Rio Grande do Sul regional government in Brazil ended a large-scale research project with Elbit.
Elbit factories have been repeatedly blockaded by campaigners. While there is still a very long way to go, the BDS movement is starting to challenge international military cooperation with Israel.
Given the complaints about dropping sales from Israeli exporters, it may now no longer be a stretch to say that grassroots campaigning and shifting public attitudes are making it harder for Israel to export the weapons it tests on Palestinians.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee, the coalition of groups that leads the BDS movement, has published a new briefing on the campaign for a military embargo on Israel. It describes how cooperation with the Israeli military-industrial complex helps the state to maintain its regime of oppression and aids the brutal repression of popular resistance by Palestinians living under its apartheid system.
The United States is providing a decade-long military aid package for Israel worth $30 billion between 2009 and 2018. The European Union’s weapons exports to Israel totaled €983 million ($1 billion) between 2012 and 2013. Many of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces during the current wave of popular resistance will have died at the hands of weapons imported from countries around the world.
Yet the problem runs much deeper than that.
The four military companies that have written to Netanyahu to demand more government assistance — Elbit, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael and Israel Military Industries — are key components of Israel’s apartheid system. They help arm the Israeli military and provide it with the drones used to attack Palestinian civilians. They also help to run the checkpoints, the massive wall in the West Bank, and the population database and surveillance systems that make up the infrastructure of Israel’s apartheid system.
Incentive for violence
The ability of these companies to use Israeli military operations to test and market military exports creates a powerful financial incentive for continued oppression and violence. One out of every 10 Israelis is said to be financially dependent on the military industry, meaning there’s a growing section of Israeli society whose interests are directly served by continued Israeli militarism.
When governments around the world buy drones and other technology from these companies, they help Israel to offset the costs of its regime of oppression, send Israel the message that carrying out war crimes is good for business, and give Israel the green light to carry out further war crimes. Yet all this also means that any continued drop in military and weapons exports would pose a real challenge to Israel.
At least in the US and Europe, grassroots campaigns for a military embargo often run up against the problem that it seems unrealistic to challenge governments to end their arms trade with Israel when that support seems so intractable. Yet this letter from Israeli arms dealers appears to suggest that campaigners and public opinion may be having a greater impact on governments than previously realized. Targeting military relations with Israel doesn’t have to be confined to demanding embargoes. Campaigners can try to push banks, pension funds, universities and corporations such as Hewlett-Packard and G4S into cutting their ties with Israel’s weapons industry.
It must be emphasized that military ties with Israel aren’t just bad news for Palestinians. Israel and its arms companies are training and arming death squads in Latin America and police forces from Ferguson to London. They sell military expertise to dictatorships in Asia and Africa and are working with border agencies in the US and Europe to ensure that refugees are treated cruelly.
Drones perform a key function in Israel’s siege and periodical attacks on Gaza and its surveillance of the West Bank. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Israel is a key driver of the proliferation of drones. It has supplied 60.7 percent of the world’s drones since 1985.
Israel is not only violating the rights of Palestinians, it is also exporting the ideology and technology behind its oppression. Solidarity campaigns against military ties with Israel not only pose a direct challenge to Israeli militarism, they also provide a powerful opportunity to work with other progressive forces in order to achieve genuine peace and justice across the world.