Israeli Arms Exports
What’s the problem?
Oversight of Weapons Exports
Oversight in Israel – the Numbers
Between the years 2012-2017
Average yearly requests for marketing licenses
Of requests for marketing licenses were approved
Average yearly requests for export licenses
Of export license applications were approved
Employees handle almost 50,000 applications a year
According to Ministry of Security report 25.5.17
With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that Israeli arms are falling into the wrong hands
Arms Export Legislation in Israel
Israel’s Oversight Policy
Why is legislation the first necessary step in solving this problem?
Because that’s how it works in civilized countries. Israel’s oversight policy is anchored in the law. At present, it is just “slightly” missing the component of moral considerations.
And until this is remedied – as long as companies are legally permitted to sell arms to someone who intentionally abuses it, using it against innocent people – the problem belongs not just to the companies, or to the Ministry of Defense. It belongs to all of us as citizens.
What’s our current situation, and what’s it like in the rest of the world? Are other countries better?
The answer in this case is clear – Yes.
In Israel, unlike in most Western countries, there is no legal restriction on selling arms to a regime guilty of severe human rights violations.
110 countries worldwide ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all European countries (except Andorra, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia).
Of the 10 largest weapons exporters in the world, only Israel and the US have not ratified the treaty. In the US, weapons sales to genocidal regimes are restricted by the Leahy laws.
In Israel, the Defense Export Controls Acts establishes government oversight of weapons sales by DECA (the Defense Exports Control Agency), but the law does not authorize this branch to withhold an export license on ethical grounds of human rights in the destination country.
In practice, despite Israel’s official lack of transparency regarding export destinations, we know of many cases in which weapons licenses were obtained for countries carrying out ethnic cleansing and genocide, such as South Sudan and Myanmar.
How can this be fixed?
What is needed is a simple legislative amendment, which has broad public consensus, and a clear moral imperative, and which has already been drafted and proposed in a number of versions, among them in 2016 by Yehuda Glick, Tamar Zandberg and other MKs from the coalition and opposition, and in 2018 by Hilik Bar, in a proposal that enjoyed support from a series of rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Chaim Druckman and Rabbi Yaakov Medan as well as from a range of public figures from all sectors, across the political spectrum.
Although Israel does not say where its weapons are sold, there is ample proof that Israeli weapons have
been sold to countries responsible forethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
10 Frequently Asked Questions About Israeli Weapons Sales
You asked, we answered
It’s a good question, but it’s impossible to deny that this is the current reality. Even after the export law passed in 2007, we know of one example after another of countries where it is known that terrible crimes against humanity were being committed, countries under arms embargoes by the United States and the European Union, to which Israel continued to sell arms. Examples include: South Sudan, Myanmar, Cameroon, Honduras, the Phillipines, Azerbaijan– and there are more.
So- how can it be? There are many reasons. Those who have an interest in selling arms have good reason to want to keep this activity as confidential as possible. This way, all possible justifications can be used, and we know that even good people are capable of doing terrible things when they can find a way to justify it. Sometimes there are diplomatic reasons for arms sales, sometimes there are security reasons, and infrequently, there are Jewish communities that can be protected because of this. Beneath all of this, there are always significant economic reasons for private individuals with power and means.
There are over 1000 private companies in Israel that are authorized to export weapons. However, every sale must receive 2 licenses (one for marketing, and one for sale) from DECA, which details where the arms are going and how they will be used. This means that every arms sale has the authorization of the government, and in this way, the government is involved and responsible even when the companies are private.
Of course there are reasons. There is benefit to be gained from these sales. At times, Israel may reap security or diplomatic benefits in exchange for weapons, and, of course, economic profit is a powerful motivator.
Are these reasons “good enough”? We need to ask ourselves- can there be a point at which we’ll say that it’s “worth it” for us to support regimes that murder innocents? Is it possible to justify aiding the murder of a person who poses Israel no threat, simply because it serves our interests? We should also ask- would we accept this justification from someone who arms our own enemies? When it comes to weapons sales, it must be clear: there are some things that, no matter how much we might gain from them, are simply forbidden to do.
No! First of all, it’s not true that “everyone does it”. From among the world’s top ten weapons exporters, the only countries that lack some legal obligation not to sell weapons to countries engaged in gross violations of human rights are Israel and Russia. It is true that there are some other countries that are ready to sell to virtually anyone- to Russia can be added China and North Korea. Is this the neighborhood we want to be in?
And no, it’s not true that it’s better that we, at least, should benefit from it. When we benefit, we become partners in these crimes, and also grant legitimacy to the regimes committing them. We can’t point an accusing finger at countries violating human rights with one hand, while we use our other hand to provide them with weapons in order to do this.
What is more- the more countries there are that refuse to sell to them, the harder it gets for them to buy weapons. The more countries there are who are ready to sell arms to anyone willing to pay the price, the more competition there will be, which means it will be easier and cheaper to obtain arms. In the ideal world, there are no weapons at all. But before we get there, we can still work to make sure that there are less. What side do we want to see ourselves on? The side that is enabling and encouraging more war and needless bloodshed, or the side that is trying to stop it?
Lastly, a word about “Israeli pride”- there are also weapons, especially in the realm of technology, for which Israel offers a significant qualitative edge. Israeli companies have developed cyber attack software and drones the likes of which cannot be purchased from any other country. If these Israeli inventions would be sold only to countries that use them for legitimate purposes, it would be much easier to feel proud of the impact Israel has on the world. Unfortunately, today, that is not the case.
Not really. Israel is a strong, thriving country, with so much to offer the world. There is no question that Israel can survive and continue to thrive even without the millions gained from selling weapons to murderous regimes. Weapons export have turned into a kind of addiction- the more there is, the more we need. From among the countries to which Israel exports weapons, there are enough that set moral limits on the legitimate use of arms, so that arms are used to defend their populace, and not to wantonly attack innocents in order to maintain the power of a dictator. In fact, the large majority of our exports go to just such countries.
An excellent question. Israel insists on a total lack of transparency in this field, in a way that is very unlike other democratic countries. The list of companies involved in weapons exports, the list of countries that Israeli companies sell to, and the list of products that are sold- all these are classified, in the name of Israeli national security. Therefore, our ability to know about what is really going on is very limited and complicated. Beyond this, of course, there are those who have a vested interest that the average Israeli will know as little as possible about this issue- because they understand that if they did, they wouldn’t stand for it.
This is also an interesting question. One could suggest all kinds of answers- people are busy with other things, the impact is far and hidden from the eye, it seems like a near impossible task. It’s also true that there have been individuals who have been active, and a number of projects within other organizations which worked on gathering data and raising awareness about this issue. But the most important point is- now that this organization exists, we have much work to do together! Let’s get to it…
This is very true. This faces us, the citizens of Israel with a question: Do we truly live in a democracy, in which policies are influenced by the opinions of the people? Or do we live in a country where policies are determined by a small number of rich and influential people? Actually- this is the kind of question that, whatever answer you believe in becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we, as citizens, resign ourselves to the fact that our policies will be defined by narrow interests of the very rich, then this is exactly what will happen. But if we insist that the country represent the opinion of the majority (and the majority of Israelis do not want Israel selling arms to human rights violators), then our collective voice could cause policies to change. Ask yourselves this- if one million Israeli citizens were raising their voice about this issue- you don’t think politicians would listen?
This is our own problem. This problem exists here, with us, and not at all far off. True, the terrible ramifications of Israeli policies are taking place far away from us, but the problematic policy lives right here, and it is in the hands of our elected officials. And when you compare the amount and degree of suffering all over the world that this policy creates, our own problems here, as serious as they are, are dwarfed. 400,000 people were killed in the civil war in South Sudan, where Israeli weapons were sold to both sides. Tens of thousands were murdered and over 800,000 people were turned into refugees as a result of the genocide in Burma. Israel allowed weapons sales to the Burmese government even as the genocide took place. Tens of thousands of people have been killed with no due process in the Phillippines, and the examples go on and one, repeated in many countries. Every single day. Because of Israeli weapons exports, we are complicit in all of these crimes.
We are leftists. And rightists. Religious. And secular. And everything in between and to the side. But we are absolutely not anti-Israel. The opposite is true. We believe in the vision of the state of Israel of the founders, of a state that would be a moral light unto the nations. We believe in the words of David Ben Gurion that “the state of Israel will not be measured by its wealth, its army, or its tactics, but by its moral character and human values.” Some people connect to Yanshoof’s goals from the direction of universal human rights, others from a direction of Jewish law and values, some from the vision of the prophets, others from the vision of the founders. Some connect from a sense of historical responsibility as a nation that has suffered so greatly, others from a global responsibility to reduce suffering in the world. The truth is that, as far as questions of national security, there is no issue in which there is greater consensus across the spectrum than this one, and that is the way it should be.