Israel a top weapon exporter
- Israel placed in top five weapons exporting countries
The Associated Press
19 November 2003
With an arsenal ranging from the Uzi to attack drones and airborne
early warning systems, Israel has quietly transformed itself into
one of the world's top defense exporters.
Defense News has ranked Israel as No. 3 based on 2002 contracts, and
an Israeli expert told The Associated Press the country was now
considered to be in the top five. Growing sales to Turkey and India,
two major new markets for Israel, have driven the surge.
The country's success as a weapons exporter comes against the
backdrop of three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has
stifled Israel's economic development and deepened its isolation.
Until this summer, the Defense Ministry refused to publish
statistics on arms sales, although some figures had been provided in
background briefings. The subject remains sensitive, especially
because of some critics' charges that Israel passes on American
military technology to third countries.
Defense Ministry figures show Israeli weapons export contracts were
worth $4.1 billion in 2002 - up from $2.6 billion the previous year.
Israel's overall exports are around $30 billion.
In June, Defense News ranked Israel 3rd in defense exports, behind
only the U.S. and Russia. The magazine, a U.S. weekly specializing
in military issues, said those countries had defense exports of
$13.2 billion and $4.4 billion, respectively.
But there is no consensus on the exact numbers, in part because some
countries use contracts for their totals and others use actual
Efraim Inbar of Tel Aviv's BESA Center for Strategic Studies
estimated that the top five defense exporters - not necessarily in
this order - were now the United States, Russia, France, Britain and
Richard Grimmett of the Congressional Research Service in
Washington, applying a strict standard, credits Israel in his latest
annual report with contracts of only $1 billion in 2002, placing it
eighth - although if Israel's figures were accepted, here, too, it
would be third behind the United States and Russia.
Grimmett could not explain the discrepancy but said that
"definitions count and countries have different ways of
tabulations... We don't count letters of intent or memoranda of
A major reason for Israel's recent surge was a $700 million deal to
upgrade Turkish tanks, according to Barbara Opall-Rome, Tel Aviv
correspondent of Defense News.
In addition to India and Turkey, other large markets for Israeli
weapons systems include the United States, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Some Israeli weapons have gone to controversial buyers - the
Pinochet regime in Chile, for example, or Li Peng's China in the
wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Today, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi says, a
parliamentary committee must give its approval for all Israeli
weapons transfers, and the Defense Ministry prevents weapons systems
from going to countries with checkered political records.
Some 200 arms manufacturers operate in Israel, but five companies -
the state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries, or IAI, Israel Military
Industries and Rafael, and privately held Elbit and Elrisa - account
for about 90 percent of all foreign sales.
Israeli and foreign analysts say Israel's evolution into a big time
arms exporter reflects the lessons learned from fighting five wars
in 55 years, and the close working relations between the Israel
Defense Forces and Israeli defense industries. It also comes from
knowing what to sell and where to sell it.
Israel has also benefited from its ties to the United States and
access to U.S. technology. Much of Israeli avionics is based on U.S.
Missiles, pilotless aircraft and the upgrading of existing weapons
systems are special areas of strength for the Israeli defense
Israel Aircraft Industries had $2.1 billion in defense sales in
2002, 75 percent of them exports. Israeli and foreign media have
reported that India accounts for at least 50 percent of its foreign
In September, India agreed to purchase four Phalcon airborne early
warning systems, which consist of IAI avionics fitted onto Russian
Ilyushin airliners. The deal, worth an estimated $1 billion, will
come into force when final details are worked out.
IAI is also angling to sell India the Arrow missile defense system,
which it is developing together with the Chicago-based Boeing
Because of Boeing's participation, the U.S. government will have to
give its permission for any Arrow deal to go through.
This worries some Israeli defense officials. In 2000, the United
States vetoed an intended $2 billion Phalcon sale to China,
ostensibly because of American fears of an increased threat to
Taiwan and to U.S. pilots in the event of war with China.
The deals may have even broader strategic value, said Yitzhak
Shichor, an Asian expert at Israel's University of Haifa.
"India has close relations with Iran, which Israel sees as a nuclear
threat," Shichor said. "The diplomatic leverage accruing to Israel
from the Indian weapons sales could help it in this area."
Shichor said the same process may also be at work in Turkey.
Israeli weapons sales there have amounted to $3 billion since 1996,
including modernization of U.S-made F-4 and F-5 jet fighters and
co-production of air-to-ground missiles.
Shichor noted that the Israeli air force regularly trains over
Turkish airspace, and Israeli and Turkish intelligence services
share information about military developments in Syria and Iran.
"Turkey is very important to Israel's interests," he said. "Weapons
sales have helped to warm the relationship.
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