Israel’s GDP was estimated at $387 billion in 2019, compared with $370 billion the previous year, and is expected to be $410 billion by the end of 2020. The Israeli economy is growing steadily which, when its size and population is taken into account, reflects outstanding economic progress.
Breaking down these figures, though, we find that illegal and unethical trade plays a very big role in promoting the Israeli economy. Israel was classified by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as the eighth largest arms exporter early this year, but there are more to such sales than meet the eye.
While Israel calls itself the “only democracy in the Middle East” and promotes itself as a civilised state, it is actually involved in nurturing terrorism and promoting genocide and war crimes through its sale of arms and high-tech know how. To retain this facade, Israel keeps the details of its arms deals a secret.
Over the past decade, many activists, investigative journalists and human rights groups have tried to get information from the authorities in order to confirm or deny Israel’s involvement in war crimes, genocide and other human rights violations in different parts of the world. All efforts have been in vain.
Prominent Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack led a group of nine activists to find out if Israel is linked to the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. They duly filed a freedom of information request to the Israeli Defence Ministry for information about arms deals, but their request was denied. When they appealed to the Supreme Court, it ruled that “such information was legitimately sealed from public view in order to protect the security of the nation.”
Mack and his group of human rights activists have sought information about Israeli military deals with Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Serbia, South Sudan and Rwanda, without success. The pretext given by the authorities has always been the protection of Israel and its citizens.
Well known Israeli journalist Gideon Levy disagrees with this excuse. “Money is above everything,” he told me. If the Haaretz columnist is right, it suggests that Israel plays dirty to boost revenue without considering the ethics of arms sales, or international law.
Article Six of the UN Arms Trade Treaty states that, “a State Party shall not authorise any transfer of conventional arms… if it has knowledge at the time of authorisation that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party.”
Israeli intelligence and security specialist Yossi Mellman told MEMO that the arms industry is “the primary supplier of weapons to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and employs some 100,000 workers, making them a significant factor in allowing Israel’s economy to prosper.”
National leaders around the world know that Israel will always be there for them when lucrative deals are involved, regardless of their human rights record. The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, for example, has been widely accused of committing war crimes, but was given a warm reception by Israel’s president, prime minister and other officials in Tel Aviv. Unlike the United States, Germany and China, Israel does not impose any limitations on the sales, he has said.
The issue with Israel is not related to a lack of information about the war crimes and genocide of their arms customers. The issue is that Israel intentionally and with full knowledge sells its arms to war criminals and human rights abusers. An opinion piece in Haaretz reminded us that, “For years Israel secretly authorised weapon sales to Myanmar, even after the accusations of mass slaughter, rapes and the burning of Rohingya villages become known and after a European Union arms embargo and US sanctions on the country.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, investigative journalist with Haaretz John Brown said: “If countries want the best arms, then they probably go to the US and Europe. But when no one else will sell to you, then you turn to Israel.”
Israel supplies weapons and technology to authoritarian regimes not only for money, but also in order to develop good diplomatic relations with them, including its neighbours such as Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. All of these countries are involved in grave human rights violations.
“The benefits for Israel are not just measured in money,” Brown explained to Al Jazeera. “Often even more important are the diplomatic and strategic alliances Israel can gain from this arms trade.” According to the Times of Israel, Israel sees the arms exports “as key to driving upgraded ties with countries around the world.”
The Israeli government will “never” admit selling weapons to countries which are accused of committing war crimes and genocide. “Human rights activists have several times tried to force Israel to reveal its arms deals, but they always failed,” Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport told MEMO. “I find it hard to believe that Israel has such intimate relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries without selling them at least military knowledge, military technology and maybe also weapons.”
Richard Silverstein, who blogs at Tikun Olam, where he covers Israel’s national security issues, pointed out that, “The armaments industry is powered by ongoing conflicts between Israel and its frontline neighbours. They develop, test and deploy some of the world’s most advanced weapons systems, which maximise the death and suffering of its enemies. Then it turns around and exports not just the weapons systems, but the suffering they cause.” He also said that along with other issues, “this makes Israel a major force for destabilisation among the nations of the world.”
Israel can be said to field test its weapons on the Palestinians, but does not appear to care if they are then used to kill Jews. Referring to the “dirty war” in Argentina in the 1970s, Jonathan Cook reported John Brown saying that Israel helped supply weapons that killed over 30,000 people, and that it was aware that there were some 2,000 Jews among the victims. “Israel knew that the weapons it was selling were being turned on Jews,” Brown noted, “but that did not stop it selling arms. It simply didn’t care.”
“Turning blood into money” through arms sales and other means is now an Israeli speciality. The head of the Israeli army’s southern command during the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2008/9, Yoav Galant, made it clear that countries around the world seek Israel’s help on how to do this despite their public condemnation of Israeli actions: “There’s a lot of hypocrisy,” said Galant. “They condemn you politically, while they ask you what your trick is, you Israelis, for turning blood into money.”
The Israeli economy looks good, but how it got to that position is less attractive. Hypocrisy has always had a part to play in diplomacy and international relations, but when there are such murderous connotations attached, it needs to be curbed.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.