Iron Dome, one more safety ‘solution’ proving false

iron dome ashkelonThe most highlighted Israeli weapon system used in the war last week is the newly developed Iron Dome anti-missile system against short-range rockets and mortars. When first used in 2011, the system’s success-rate was said to be 70%; at present Israel claims it is 80-85%. Of the 737 rockets fired from Gaza upon Israel in the first 3 days of conflict, 245 were intercepted by the Iron Dome system (which only intercepts when a rocket is aiming at populated areas). The system is now widely praised in the military press for protecting Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. It is has also contributed to its export potential. The United States, South Korea and several NATO countries in Europe have already shown serious interest in the system.

The development of the Rafael-produced Iron Dome has been heavily sponsored by the United States, which allocated a total of $275 million. Each Iron Dome battery costs $50 million, a missile some $50-60,000, still relatively inexpensive in the military context.

The system is said to be a ‘game changer’ in the way the war has been waged. Under the protection of Iron Dome, the Israeli military was able to attack some 1,400 ‘targets’ throughout Gaza during operation Pillar of Defense without having to send in ground troops as during operation Cast Lead (many targets being civilians, many targets being children). “We haven’t yet squeezed out the full effectiveness” a former top Israeli military commander told the military press. “If conditions allow us another two or three days of intensified and punishing standoff attacks, we should be able to end this without getting back into Gaza.”

The protection and safety provided to Israel by Iron Dome turned out to be limited however when a bom exploded in a Tel Aviv bus. Notwithstaning the hurray stories about the Iron Dome system, in the end there is no safety to gain from ever more sophisticated weapon systems.

According to the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC), Israel tops the list of the world’s most militarised nations. But will this bring safety? The only safety for Israel is when it starts to talk. Talk with Hamas, and talk with the Iranian friends of Hamas. When no steps are made in the direction of negotiations, the war will last forever.

Profit from Israel’s Homeland Security experience

From 11 tot 14 November the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute is organising the 2th Homeland Security Conference in Tel Aviv. Homeland security is the term used for -often highly militarised- protection against internal treats like terrorism. For the HSC in Tel Aviv, governments and community decision makers from all over the world are strongly invited to participate because, according to the chair of the organising institute: “We live in an age of terror” and “Israel has long experience with terror (…) and expertise acquired over decades of combating internal security and terror threats”. This experience is reflected in the close collaboration between the military and the arms and security industry, where half of the senior employees have a military background. Although other countries also know the phenomenon of the ‘revolving door’ the high level of connection is unique for Israel.

Homeland security is a booming business. According to US government estimates, more than 4000 Israeli companies were exporting security related products in 2007, with a value of $1.2 billion. It is predicted that the global homeland security markets will be growing fast over the next years – from a sum total of $140 billion in 2008, to approximately $254 billion in 2018 and with Israel in the forefront of the technology and tactics, its export volume might increase rapidly.

The Homeland Security Conference will be accompanied by a exhibition where companies of Israel’s homeland security industry will show their “solution areas”. Apart from the big arms companies Elbit and IAI there is a long list of 54 exhibitors which announces companies such as BlueBird Aero systems, a company which offers combat proven Unmanned Areal Systems or drones. BlueBird is helping us prepare for the worst: Its drones are suitable for hazardous areas like earthquake areas or areas subjected to atomic, biological and chemical attacks. And all this the company offers cost-effectively.

Another company offering its services is the Israel Prison Service, the national detention organization of the State of Israel. One can wonder what special services or experience this company will have to offer to the international delegations.

Or ISPRA, global leader in developing, manufacturing and marketing of non lethal devices for riot control, crowd management, anti terror equipment and police gear. ISPRA advertises that it combines technical know-how and practical field experience with a broad range of tear gasses, smoke grenades, launchers and ammunitions and police personal gear such as tactical assault vests. ISPRA also offers consultancy for the best security solutions, again cost-effective, based on operational experience in the governmental as well as the private sectors. Who wants to be advised by experienced controllers of Palestinian ‘riots’ and ‘terrorists’ should definitely visit the HSC.

It would be interesting to know which countries do send delegations to this Homeland Security export show of Israeli repression techniques and technology. The first HSC in 2010 was visited by many government representatives from abroad, including, among others, the ministers of internal security of Italy and Panama. Some countries sent particularly large delegations, including Brazil, whose delegation included 80 people.

Italian jets for the Israeli air force

Early July the Israeli Ministry of Defence announced its approval to buy thirty Italian M-346 Master jets worth over one billion US dollar.  A day earlier, deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman had visited the factory in Varese for a demonstration. “Beyond the security contribution of acquiring the plane, it is another step in strengthening the ongoing relations between Israel and Italy and will contribute to the economy of the two countries”, he was quoted as saying.

 In the highly contested fighter trainer aircraft deal, Alenia Aermacchi – a daughter company of the Finmeccanica weapons conglomerate, Europe’s third largest arms producing company – won over a bid by Korea Aerospace Industries.

 To help winning the contract, the Italian government has promised to buy Israeli weapons and other military equipment worth at least 1 billion dollar. The Italians will reportedly procure Israel Aerospace Industries’ spy planes and will jointly develop a new reconnaissance satellite with Israel. For Italy it has been an important win to get its arms industry going in times of falling national budgets; for Israel’s growing arms industry sales to Italy mean new export opportunities in Europe.

Media further reports that “the defence establishment said that the officials responsible for the deal were well aware of Italy’s shaky economic conditions, and that measures for dealing with this have already been coordinated with the Ministry of Finance to prepare a package of guarantees for reciprocal procurements.“

Apart from the long running controversial German submarine deal with Israel, this is the largest single arms deal a European country concluded with Israel over the past decade.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom together represented some 85 percent of the 1.55 billion euros of EU arms export licences to Israel for the period 2001-2010. Italy, thus far never reported exports exceeding a few million euros a year.

The M-346 was developed from the early 1990’s under a joint venture with Russian aerospace company Yakovlev, based on its Yak-130. Since 2000 Alenia has the sole marketing rights outside former Soviet Union territory.  Besides Israel, only Italy (15 planes) and Singapore (12) have ordered the fighter trainers.

As most fighter trainers the aircraft can be used in an offensive role as well. For that purpose the M-346 has a provision for nine pylon stations which could take a maximum of three thousand kg. in bombs and missiles. See p.6/7 at

 While of course Israel has much more capable F-16 fighter aircraft, in times of war it could very well use the trainers as bomber aircraft. That is also how its predecessor, the A-4 Skyhawk, was heavily used in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Similarly BAE Systems Hawk aircraft were also sold to Indonesia as trainer aircraft. As feared by many peace activists at the time, they were allegedly used in bombing runs to oppress the East Timorese struggle for independence.

Security Israel / Combat 2012 – ‘Combat proven’ arms and greenwashing policies

Today sees the start of the annual military exhibition and fair Security Israel – International Homeland Security Exhibition  in Tel Aviv. It is combined with the Combat – International Exhibition for Operational Units. The exhibitions, which are fully sponsored bu the Israeli government, counted almost 10,000 visitors and over 100 exhibitors in 2011. This year some 150 exhibitors are expected, as well as delegations from over 30 countries.

Exhibitors are mainly Israeli companies, which will undoubtedly recommend a lot of their military and security equipment as ‘combat proven’, since it has been used in recent Israeli wars or the suppression of Palestinians. “Combat proven’ is one of the highest recommendations military equipment can get and the Israeli equipment is much in demand. The security industry is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in Israel and internationally Israel is at the forefront of developing new equipment and technologies.

While non-Israeli companies are also present at the Security Israel arms fair, its main goal is to boost export sales of Israel-made arms and security technologies. At first sight this may seem to be less controversial as arms going the other way around. However, foreign purchases provide the Israeli defence and security industry with money and legitimacy, which in turn furthers its position and political influence. Moreover, the strong relationship between the defence and security industry and the Israeli armed forces mean that foreign imports of Israeli military and security equipment contribute directly to the strengthening of the military-industrial complex and its combined efforts to develop ever more enhanced equipment to suppress the Palestinians, and to sell to controversial costumers all over the world.

As Maj.-Gen. (retired) Giora Eiland of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) noted , the fact that a large number of retired Israeli army officers seek employment in the defense industry means “new lessons from the field can quickly be incorporated into the development of new defense systems”.

Back at the Security Israel and Combat exhibitions, foreign visitors are also encouraged to take part in guided tours “in surroundings which allow the participants to see and to understand the security problems that Israel faces and will include the presentation of the systems and technologies used by the security forces”. Destinations are for example the Gaza Strip and the separation barrier. Participants do not have to worry because “the tour is protected and will not pass through dangerous areas.” Next to this, visitors can also participate in “a series of counter-terror exercises demonstrating various scenarios and the operational activities designed to deal with acts of terror and their prevention.”

With this, the exhibitions also help in creating ‘understanding’ for the way the state of Israel operates against the Palestinians. Of course, showing the Palestinian side of these operations is not part of the tours. Arms and security equipment sales apparently do not thrive on directly showing the consequences of violence and human rights violations.

Iron Dome is cash cow for U.S. and Israeli industries

For many years the United States and Israel have been working together on the Iron Dome system, meant to intercept incoming short-range missiles. Israel claims that since the introduction of the Iron Dome last year, it has shot down some 90 missiles launched from Gaza.

Mid-May Israeli Defence minister Ehud Barak visited Washington to discuss further cooperation in the area of missile defence. The United States continues funding the Iron Dome – built by Israeli company Rafael – with $70 million in assistance this year, with more funding likely in the future. U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta called the aid “part of our rock solid commitment to Israel’s security”, which comes on top of approximately $3 billion in annual security assistance. Previously Washington already delivered $205 million in assistance for the missile defence system.
However, the announcement fell short of predictions published in Israel’s Haaretz daily that Washington was ready to commit to $680 million to pay for more anti-rocket batteries.

Assistance for two other systems – given fantasy names as if it is a children’s game – has already been approved. These are the high-altitude Arrow 3 built by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and designed to intercept Iranian and Syrian ballistic missiles, and David’s Sling, another Rafael system intended to counter medium-range missiles. Arrow is to get $119 million, with David’s Sling, also known as Magic Wand, will receive $165 million.  According to the Congressional Research Service Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. As of 2012, the United States has provided Israel with a total $115 billion.

Barak thanked the US for its support and said that Israeli-US military ties had never been as strong as they were today under the Obama administration. ‘The US decision to support further enhancing Israel’s security is an important demonstration of the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel’, Barak said.

Greek blocking of Gaza flotilla rewarded with arms

In the middle of the economic crisis, Greece’s government budget is being slashed. After years of gigantic military spending, even the defence budget can no longer escape major cuts. Data on military expenditure, as released by peace research institute SIPRI, show that despite an eleven percent decrease since 2009, the military budget in 2010 was still higher than in 2007, the year before the economic crisis started.

With its spending now under surveillance from the European Union, Greece is more than happy to get a helping hand from its partners when it comes to military support. Earlier this month the US finally agreed to transfer 400 Abrams tanks and 700 M113 armoured vehicles to Greece, reportedly related to Greek assistance in the 2011 war to topple the Libyan dictator Muammar Khadafi.

 With arms trade so closely related to international politics such donations are not uncommon. Often the gesture is more symbolic. The supplier wanted to get rid of the weapons anyway and even selfish concerns can play a role. When everything has returned to normal the donor will be remembered for its kindness and be well positioned for potential new orders.

While the latter reason may have played a role as well, Israel’s recent arms donation to Greece appears to be an honest ‘thank you’ to Greece for its efforts in sabotaging the Gaza flotilla last year.

According to a fansite of the Greek armed forces Israel wanted “to express its gratitude to the HCG [Hellenic Coast Guard], which faces shortages of weapons, tools and technical support (spare parts) because of the economic crisis. The Greeks officials – to their credit – refused any offer in cash, but instead asked the Israelis, who insisted on expressing their gratitude, to provide some equipment. With rapid procedures they drafted a wish list and the Israelis began fulfilling the Greek requests”. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly that batch of arms and military equipment has been received now.

But of course rather than just a ‘thank you’, Israel has been cementing its ties with Greece since Turkish-Israeli (military) relations were largely frozen after Israel attacked the first Gaza flotilla in 2010. Those raids killed nine Turkish activists. Traditionally pro-Arab Greece – which officially recognised Israel only in 1991 – pledged to boost military cooperation with Israel during a visit of Defence Minister Ehud Brak to Athens in January this year. With this expression of gratitute Israel might have found another arms export market.

Photo: Israeli Coast Guard

Israeli drones on the European market

Drones are the must-have of the century for the modern military. As unmanned system they can fly a long time without a pilot who gets tired, they do not put pilots at risk and –very important in times of budget cuts – they are low-cost. What makes them so popular is that they fit in what is called asymmetric warfare, warfare of big states against small groups of militants. This the dominant warfare today. And there is one country with long experience with it: Israel.

Therefore it is no wonder that Israel is a major developer of drones, only second to the US. UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are a key export of Israel’s arms industry, most prominently Aeronautics Defense Systems, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. UAVs are used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting missions. A growing number of models have begun carrying missiles. Israeli drones are used and improved with battlefield experience since 1982.

The use of drones in the 2009 Gaza war is well documented in the Human Rights Watch Report Precisely Wrong

European countries are very eager to profit from Israeli technology. Joint-ventures between have advantages for both parties: for Israeli firms they provide access to EU markets (revenues), for European companies they enable technology transfers. That Israeli military know-how is gained at a high cost in terms of peace and human rights seems no objection for Europe.

The UK is developing several surveillance drones, most notably the Watchkeeper, jointly produced by Elbit and Thales UK. The first ten are built in Israel after which production is transferred to the UK. Although Watchkeeper was expected to enter service in 2010 it is repeatedly delayed further into 2012. the Watchkeeper is a surveillance drone but may be armed in the future.  The UK is already using the US-made armed Reaper drone in Afghanistan.
The UK also has Israeli Hermes 450 surveillance drones in production for use in Afghanistan. Production takes place in Leicester with U-TacS, a company jointly owned by Elbit systems and Thales UK.

Germany ordered a small fleet of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron 1 spy drones for use in Afghanistan. German soldiers received practical training for the Heron 1 in Israel. Heron is also used by Canadian, French, Australian and Spanish forces in Afghanistan. Israelis are barred by Afghanistan, so IAI ceded maintenance services to its German partner Rheinmetall Defense.
The deaths of a German citizen in Waziristan by an American drone strike in 2010 confronted Germany painfully with the consequenses of drone warfare. Targeted assassinations have been developed as a tactic by Israel. The first high-profile use of drones in killing was the assassination of Hizballah Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi in 1992 when an IAI Scout was used to identify the target and lead the attack.

France bought the IAI Hunter in 1997 and the Heron 1 based Harfang in 2001, the latter developed by European defence company EADS and IAI. The French state and EADS invested 380 million euro for the French heron-version but already the system is outdated and needs replacement. This replacement is the topic of fierce debate between the French government and members of the Senat, maily focussing on the price and capabilities of different systems.  Competition is between those that want to buy American Reaper drones and those that want to support the development of a European drones industry by buying adapted Heron TP drones built by Dassault and IAI. EADS appears to be losing out because of failing cooperation between EADS and IAI.

In a letter to newspaper Le Monde four French senators claim that not only is the American drone less expensive but also that one of the disadvantages of the Heron is that it cannot be armed. This is however contradicted by many sources. . Precision weapons that could be adapted for armed drones include the Lahat missile, designed by IAI subsidiary MBT, and Rafael’s Spike, which is produced in Europe by EuroSpike, a joint venture of German Diehl, and Rheinmetall with Rafael.

Fortunately, financial and military questions are not the only issues in the French UAV debate. The French BDS movement has raised the ethical question of buying Israeli weapons and has started an online petition.

Photo: Two men were killed by targeted drone attack in Gaza City 08/11/2011

EU arms export figures published, but incomplete

As late as December.30, on the very last working day of 2011, the European Union finally published its arms export figures of 2010 in the “Thirteenth Annual Report on Exports Control of Military Technology and Equipment”  Since 1998 EU countries have established a common arms export policy, based on a system of licensing and export criteria which demand screening of the country of destination on human rights, existing conflict and tension, and behaviour towards the international community. Although this EU policy gives clear guidelines for an ethical arms export policy it is far from perfect. It leaves is however useful for NGO’s to criticise governments when discussing military deals with Israel, as in most cases such exports are inconsistent with a strict implementation of the European criteria.

Part of the Common Position on the Export of Military Technology and Equipment, as it is fully named, is the obligation to publish an Annual Report on arm exports, based on contributions from Member States, and also for Member States to publish national reports.

According to the most recently published report, the major EU arms exporter to Israel in 2010 has been France, exporting weapons for over 35 million euro. This picture however is somewhat distorted by the fact that many important arms exporters do not hand in their export figures to the EU. A tiny footnote on page 8 warns that Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Greece, Ireland and the United Kingdom “could not supply these data”. It is a shame that, thirteen years after the entry into force of the common EU arms export policy, it is publishing a document that is giving a very incomplete picture and cannot be used  to analyze accurately the actual arms exports of EU countries.

There is another figure in the document however that does shed light on EU arms exports to Israel. Although not all countries publish actual deliveries they all publish figures on granted licenses. Based on that, one can see that France is the major European arms exporting country to Israel, with licences granted for over 32 million euro. France is followed closely by Germany, with licences for arms to Israel worth 31 million, and on the third position is Rumania, with export licences to Israel worth 15 million euro and actual deliveries 11 million.

Against 808 granted arms export licences for Israel there are a meagre 20 refusals of arms export licences. Refusal grounds were the lack of respect for international obligations and commitments by Israel (criterion 2, 10 refusals based on this), the internal situation in Israel and the existence of tensions or armed conflicts (criterion 3, 11 refusals based on this), the need to preservation regional peace, security and stability (criterion 4, 9 refusals) and the risk that the military technology will be re-exported under undesirable conditions (criterion 7, 3 refusals). Considering these reasons for denial it would be interesting to know how, when applying the EU criteria on arms export properly, the other 808 military exports did manage to receive export licenses.

Completely missing in the report is any indication of the amount of military parts exported from Europe to other countries, notably the US, where these parts are build into big systems to be exported to Israel. Because the EU is not asking the US for a Declaration of Final Destination, it can act as if this indirect exports to Israel do not exist.

German support for nuclear arms race?

While the world is holding its breath over Iranian provocations and nuclear plans, Germany decides to build a sixth Dolphin class submarine for Israel.

The deal is supported by the German tax payer with € 135 million Euro, which is a third of the total cost. For the German government, this subsidy is a very expensive job support program of which shipyard HDW in Kiel (north Germany) is the main profiteer. For the Israeli navy it is a free contribution to its budget, even more welcome now Israel has plans to cut 5% of its defense costs, thanks to the Israeli version of Occupy and leading to debate in the US. 

In total the German support for the Israeli submarine procurement over the last two decades will be more than € 1 billion once Germany’s share in the costs of the sixth warship is paid. Two other Israeli Dolphin submarines are still under construction at HDW in Germany. Delivery is scheduled for 2012 and 2013 respectively. They are also co-financed by Germany with one third of the price tag directly from the German budget and another third by procuring military goods from Israel. Thus Tel Aviv only has to pay a third of the costs. There is one small delivery problem however. The Government of Norway has informed HDW that for reasons of Norway’s restrictions on arms exports, it will not allow HDW to use Norwegian military infrastructure to test these boats in deep waters. Traditionally all submarines build at HDW undergo these tests in Norway.

HDW claims on its website that hardly any other yard is so experienced in building non-nuclear (powered) submarines.  The Federation of American Scientists, leaves no doubt about the nuclear possibilities of these ‘hunter, killer and patrol’ vessels. Its missiles are very well capable of reaching Iran and of containing nuclear warheads. It is not so strange Iran feels threatened. Still Israel, contrary to Iran, so far never had to face any sanctions because of its nuclear program.

It is unclear how the German submarine export can be brought in line with criterion 3 of the EU Common Position on Arms Exports which says that “EU Member States will not issue export licences if the internal situation in the country of final destination is characterised by tension or armed conflicts if such export could provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts.”

But if you ask the common Israeli citizen, as the Saban Center for Middle East Policy did, they would prefer a nuclear-free Middle East over Israel and Iran endangering each others very existence.

Repression-based research

This month the UK based Palestine Solidarity Movement published an excellent briefing paper on military relations with Israel.

What makes the briefing paper interesting is that it not only focuses on arms exports to Israel but also on other forms of military cooperation. It highlights what makes the Israeli arms industry successful in the international marked – Israel being the world’s 5th arms exporter. A quote from the briefing: “In terms of marketing, every military operation acts as an endorsement for the weapons and techniques used.”

Battlefield as a showcase for your military products. In this, Israel is not alone. It is common arms trade marketing to point to battlefield for sales promotion. The use of Rafale fighter jets by France in the bombing of Libya is a recent example. In trying to sell the Rafale to the UAE, French Defense Minister Longuet said Libyan operations did show the plane met the UAE’s requirements.

Israel, however, has the marketing advantage of a constant ‘battlefield’ in Palestine and has therefore a permanent testing ground for its weaponry which it then sells to the rest of the world. As the briefing paper notes, even the Israeli Defense Force itself advertised the use and success of its drones in the ‘Operation Cast Lead’ – the assault on Gaza in 2008/9. It depends, of course, on what is considered a success. According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem Cast Lead left 1,385 Palestinians dead, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities; 318 of them were minors.

On the defense industry portal EPICOS the advantages of working together with the Israeli military industry are highlighted once more. Israel has a “unmatched pool of highly skilled workers and world-renowned research and academic capabilities” with “operational experience gained from serving its Defense Forces, which explains why the Israeli engineers are close to the operational user, simply because they have the proper experience and knowledge.”

Battlefield tested products and battlefield experienced researchers: the Israeli arms industry definitely has something special to offer. This is one of the reasons why some European institutes are keen on common R&D projects with Israel. In the European Union funded security research program known as FP7, Israel is the biggest non-EU recipient of funds. Not only industries but also many European universities participate in FP7 research with the Israeli arms industry. In a small country like Belgium, already two universities are involved. The Catholic University of Leuven is participating in common research with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a state‐owned manufacturer of drones, and the University of Namur participates in research with Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s largest military technology firms. In this way, European universities are building on Israeli knowledge, gained by repression and tested on Palestinians in Gaza.

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