Last month the heads of four major Israeli arms firms warned their government of a “major crisis” in the country’s arms industry. The value of arms exports is falling at the rate of at least $1 billion per year, the CEOs wrote.
In their letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu they warned that “military exports have dropped from $7.5 billion in 2012, to $6.5 billion in 2013, and further to $5.5 billion in 2014. This year we are expecting exports to total $4-4.5 billion.”
That means that by the end of this year, the three-year fall in exports could amount to as much as $3.5 billion. What accounts for this dramatic situation?
The CEOs themselves put it down to a bad economy and a generalised global downturn in defence spending on non-domestic industries: “defence markets are cutting back. Countries are buying fewer weapons, and the countries still buying are requesting to relocate production and development facilities to within their borders; we are facing serious dilemmas because of this.”
But Michael Deas of the BDS National Committee (the coalition of Palestinian civil society groups which leads and promotes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) wrote recently arguing that part of the reason for the decline in export sales can be attributed to Palestine solidarity campaigners who have long pushed for an end to military exports to Israel in their respective countries.
“The BDS movement is starting to challenge international military cooperation with Israel,” he wrote. “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 BNC has outlined a list of achievements in global campaigns for an arms embargo on Israel. More than a dozen banks have divested from Elbit, a huge Israeli arms firm. In 2014, the regional government of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul ended a large scale research collaboration project with Elbit Systems in the wake of protests. The governments of Norway and Turkey have announced forms of military embargo on Israel. The leader of the opposition in the UK, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn (long a Palestine rights campaigner) supports a two-way arms embargo and has said he would enact one on Israel should he ever be elected prime minister.
But there is a long way to go yet.
Israel still has a massive and profitable arms industry, even though the amounts made are trending downwards. In 2014, Israel was the eighth-largest arms exporter in the world – which is massive considering the small size of the country.
Israel markets its weapons as “field tested” – which means they have been trialled using human guinea pigs – Palestinians, or other Arabs during Israel’s various wars of occupation and human rights abuses. This is a part of their appeal to unethical governments around the world who buy their weapons from Israeli firms: their arms have proven to be more efficient in killing civilians, so they make an attractive investment for war criminals and torturers around the world. Indeed, Israel has a long history of aiding and abetting some of history’s most repressive regimes: both in the region and in the wider world. These have included the Shah of Iran, the apartheid-era regime in South Africa and former dictatorships in Latin America.
Despite this week’s announcement that the European Union would outlaw the labelling of goods exported from illegal Israeli settlements build on Palestinian and Syrian land as “Made in Israel” (the labels must now use the term “Israeli settlement”), ties between European governments and Israel are in reality still strong, with the French government even now outlawing any call for boycotting Israel.
Activist campaigns against Israeli arms firms have meant that they have received far more bad publicity than in the past, which seems to have contributed towards this crisis. But the main source of their bad publicity has been Israel’s own actions: its war crimes, such as in Gaza last year, and its long-lasting and brutal illegal occupation of Palestinian land has meant that more and more people in the general public are becoming more and more outraged at Israel’s abuses against the Palestinian people.
The time is right for a full arms embargo on Israel. It is really the least that governments can do: to not participate in and contribute towards Israeli war crimes.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.