By Ramzy Baroud
The Middle East, battered by wars and their related humanitarian crises, which have left millions of people stateless, hungry and diseased, is in urgent need of peace, security and reconstruction. However, thanks to US, Russian, French, Israeli and other weapons manufacturers, it is now a dumping ground for military hardware — an ominous sign for the years ahead.
Data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) this month painted a grim picture of the world in general and the Middle East in particular. According to the report, the demand for weapons in this warring region increased by a whopping 61 percent between 2015 and 2019.
The correlation between arms, war and casualties needs no elaborate algorithm to be deciphered, as facts on the ground amply demonstrate. Syria remains the center of conflict in the Middle East, with Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine and South Sudan trailing, but not far behind.
The top five merchants of death, according to SIPRI, are the US, Russia, France, Germany and China. Interestingly, while US arms exports have increased exponentially, up 76 percent, in the last five years, Russia’s fell by 18 percent. The US market is constantly expanding and it now includes 96 client countries, while Russia has essentially lost one of its most significant clients, India.
Ruled by a right-wing Hindu nationalist government, New Delhi has instead found in Tel Aviv a more ideologically likeminded supplier. The special “friendship” between India’s Narendra Modi and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has made India Israel’s largest weapons market. In 2017, Israel’s arms exports reached a record high of $9 billion following the signing of a $2 billion deal with India. The contracts awarded to Israel Aerospace Industries were considered the “single largest deal ever signed by the Israeli arms industry.”
According to the SIPRI data, Israel is second only to South Korea in terms of its vast expansion of weapons exports, as Tel Aviv’s weapons manufacturing industry has experienced an unprecedented boom in recent years. SIPRI puts that increase at 77 percent.
Last year, the International Defense Cooperation Directorate of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which is the cornerstone of Israel’s manufacturing, testing and export of weapons, released a comprehensive plan aimed at expanding the country’s export market, with particular focus on the US, Finland and India.
What makes Israeli weapons more attractive than others is the fact they are not accompanied by any political price tag. In other words, Israel is willing to sell weapons to any country, or even non-state actors, openly or secretly, regardless of how these weapons are used and whether their use violates human rights.
In May last year, Amnesty International’s Israeli chapter released an in-depth report that examined Israel’s weapons export markets. Contrary to the claim by Rachel Chen, head of the Israeli Defense Export Controls Agency, that “we will carefully examine the state of human rights in each country before approving export licenses for selling them weapons,” Israel is known for peddling its weapons to the world’s most notorious human rights violators. The list includes Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan and Sri Lanka.
Damning proof of this is provided by a statement made by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for his dismal human rights record. In September 2018, during a visit to Israel, Duterte told Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that the Philippines “would henceforth only buy weapons from Israel due to its lack of restrictions,” the Times of Israel reported. The US is “a good friend,” Duterte said, but, like Germany and China, US weapons came with certain “limitations.” Considering that Washington provides Israel with more than $3 billion of weapons annually, which are used freely against occupied Palestinians and other Arab nations with no regard whatsoever for international or humanitarian law, one has to marvel at Duterte’s statement.
It is logical to assume that a country that sells weapons to civil war-torn and extremely impoverished South Sudan has not one iota of understanding of regulations, let alone moral standards.
What is unique about the export of Israel’s weapons and so-called “security technology” is that they often appear in areas where people are the most oppressed and vulnerable. For example, Israeli companies have for years stood at the forefront of successive US administrations’ war on undocumented immigrants. Moreover, recent years have witnessed the infusion of brutal Israeli military tactics into many aspects of American society, including the militarization of the police, thousands of whose officers receive training in Israel.
Similarly, in 2018, Israeli war technology was incorporated into the EU’s security apparatus after a $68 million deal to provide maritime unmanned aircraft system patrol services was awarded to the Israeli company Elbit. This technology, which relies on the Hermes 900 Maritime Patrol system, allows the European Border and Coast Guard Agency to intercept refugees and migrants as they attempt to cross into EU territory.
The backbone of Israel’s marketing strategy is that it brands its military products as “combat proven.” Tel Aviv is able to obtain top dollar for its bloody technology as it is able to demonstrate, using actual footage, how its armed drones, for example, can flatten whole Palestinian neighborhoods in seconds and return safely to bases inside Israel.
Far greater focus should be placed on the fact that Israel itself is a notorious human rights violator that should be held accountable for its crimes against Palestinians, who are often used as guinea pigs in the testing stage of Israel’s technology of death.