The nation of Israel, one of the key hot spots in the Middle East, has willingly or unwillingly become a party to most conflicts in the region. Since its establishment, the Jewish sate has been continuously boosting its military preparedness and upgrading equipment of its forces. Starting in the 1970s, Israel’s defense industry has been constantly evolving and growing and, as a result, at present, the nation is capable of autonomously manufacturing different military equipment, ranging from small arms to tanks as well as other high precision weapons.
For many years now, Israel has been a top player in the global market of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) designed for military purposes. It has supplied other nations with large numbers of drones of different types and has also arranged their licensed production abroad. In the UAV sector, there are approximately 50 locally established companies in Israel, ranging from fairly small organizations to large concerns. Overall, they supply around 170 types of drones of different classes to the market, thus almost completely meeting UAV-related needs of Israeli armed forces. Israeli drones have been exported to defense sectors of over 50 other nations, accounting for approximately 40% of the global UAV market. According to an article published in 2019, drones constituted nearly 10% of Israel’s total military exports. European countries purchase a substantial portion (over 50%) of Israeli-produced UAVs, with approximately 30% of them sold to Asian countries.
In January 2021, India’s online newspaper ThePrint reported that Israeli defense firm Smart Shooter, which produces SMASH 2000 Plus fire control systems that turn “assault rifles into smart weapons”, was looking to set up a manufacturing plant in India.
On February 1, 2021, it was announced that the upgraded Iron Dome (a missile defense system) had successfully completed a new set of trials in Israel. According to report made public in early January, Israel made its first delivery of equipment for the Iron Dome to the US Army. On January 24, 2021, Haaretz wrote, citing Israeli defense sources, that the United States had received the approval of senior Israeli officials to begin deploying these “missile defense systems on American military bases in a number of countries, including the Middle East”, Eastern European nations (at the Russian border) and the Far East.
It is well known that Israel’s multifaceted strategic cooperation in the military sphere with the United States is at the cornerstone of its security. In accordance with the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding on military aid covering FY2019 to FY2028 signed by the United States and Israel, the latter is to receive enormous sums of money for defense purposes alone, amounting to $3.8 billion per annum. It is also worth noting that the nations agreed to a special arrangement which allows Israel to only use “26.3% of the US aid on its own defense industry instead of on American-made weapons” accounting for the remaining 3/4. Still, it is owing to the financial assistance in the defense sphere from the United States that the Jewish state has managed to make significant savings on military- and research-related costs, and this has, in large part, allowed the Israeli defense industry to focus on exporting its products and bringing in revenues without being an unbearable burden on the nation’s economy. The Israeli defense sector has also benefited from fairly easy access to the latest US military equipment, which the nation can pay for in installments.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, enacted into law on January 1, 2021, includes a provision to establish the United States-Israel Operations-Technology Cooperation working group (OTWG) within the US-Israel Defense Acquisition Advisory Group, with the view of systematically improving military research and development (R&D) collaboration between the two countries. According to The Jerusalem Post, this could, in turn, help Joe Biden’s administration “better compete in the military-technology competition with China and Russia while also strengthening Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
The focus of the Israeli military industrial sector has been on sales abroad. For instance, in June 2020, it was reported that up to 80% of Israeli defense production was exported. In 2017, Israel was the eighth largest arms exporter in the world after having ranked tenth previously. According to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute article from March 15, 2021, “Israeli arms exports represented 3.0% of the global total in 2016–20” (in comparison, France’s sales accounted for approximately 8.0% during the same period).
However an article published in Haaretz in the middle of March this year stated that there was not enough publicly available information about Israeli arms exports. So prior to the signing of Israel–Morocco normalization agreement in December 2020, Israel had sold Morocco military, control and military communication systems via a third party. In addition, in 2013, the Moroccan Air Force purchased via France three Heron drones manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries at a cost of $50 million. It was also reported that between 2000 and 2020, there were a number of secret visits by officials of both countries. Aside from trading military equipment, Israel was also involved in Morocco’s digital surveillance field. The article stated that in 2017, “Morocco began using espionage software made by Israeli company NSO Group to track and collect information on journalists andhuman rights activists.”
Information about previously undisclosed operations conducted by the Israeli Army has been recently published by The Wall Street Journal. Reportedly, for over a year, Israel has carried out attacks on “Iranian vessels or those carrying Iranian cargo” (i.e. oil or weapons) as they navigate toward Syria and in other areas of the region.
In February 2021, The Jewish Press wrote that “a group of Israeli nationals, including some former defense industry employees”, had been “investigated on suspicion of having” developed, tested, manufactured and sold advanced “weaponry to a foreign client in Asia – an adversary of the United States.”
In addition, there have been a number of security breaches at Israeli army-run facilities. In February 2021, the Israeli mass media reported that radio electronic equipment for communication and encryption, stored in 9 containers, had been stolen from the Tzeelim military training base located in southern Israel. According to a press release issued by the Israeli army, attackers had broken into sealed containers and stolen electronic equipment delivered to the base for conducting military drills. As a result, not only did the base sustain financial losses but also “there was a breakdown in the planned schedule” of exercises. The ynet.co.il portal wrote about another incident that had taken place at the Tzeelim military training base in January 2021 when at least 93,000 bullets for short barreled submachine guns and self-loading rifles used by the Israel Defense Forces (Tzahal) had been stolen from weapons storage.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.