In today’s world, access to arms goes hand in hand with political strategy – and for those desperate enough, no price is too high to sell or buy arms.
This becomes blatantly obvious in the case of Israel, a country well-known for its breaches of international law and active displacement of Palestinians. But Israel and its mercenaries have made headlines for many other reasons in recent years: from the current revelation of bribes to Liberian officials in exchange for political support, the supply of arms to the regime of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines during an ongoing ICC investigation, to the EU and the US turning a blind eye to Israel selling arms to Myanmar, despite an ongoing arms embargo.
The price of political favors in exchange for weapons is not too high – not even when a country’s own people are publicly outraged about it – and most especially not when one is desperate to keep their forced control over a population.
Following the recent expansion of the Abraham Accords between Arab countries and Israel to include Morocco in its cooperation in the fields of intelligence, air defense and electronic warfare, renewed anger has been voiced across social media platforms by Moroccans, Palestinians and those allied to the Palestinian cause. At least 64% of Moroccans are in opposition to normalization, despite bringing with it the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Occupied Western Sahara by both Israel and the US. While this is not a new development, it is crucial to recognize that this has been the State of Israel’s (SoI) strategy since its foundation in 1948 and is inherently tied to colonial structures.
Already in 2014, in the aftermath of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Khury Peterson-Smith, stated that “The US and Israel make the connections for us”, having faced brutal repression through the police in the form of the chemical malodorant skunk water, that was acquired for use in Ferguson after the 2014 unrests. Skunk water was developed as a tool of “crowd-control”, for usage in the Occupied West Bank. Although not physically dangerous, it is considered inhumane, as the smell of feces and other contents will stick to the skin for weeks after use – a characteristic sometimes utilized to mark people.
The activist also pointed out the urban police forces, which violently suppressed protestors in Ferguson, were the same ones trained in Israel, as part of an ongoing military exchange. Israel, in turn, is set to receive $38 B in military aid from the USA across ten years, following a 2016 deal.
While the USA may be Israel’s main supplier of arms, Israel’s arms sales have long since expanded to the Global South. Israel itself has not ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibits the sales of weapons at risk of being used in genocide and crimes against humanity. Israel, under signatory status, has not implemented accountability mechanisms to oversee arms sales, even though SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) had pointed out Israel’s refusal to disclose its sales, most of which were done by intermediaries and private expats. Reports by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other investigations show the various recipients of Israel’s arms, e.g. in visual proof of Galil rifles in South Sudan. Although Amnesty International suspects that these were imported prior to the 2015 arms embargo included in the sanctions, rifles originally sold to Uganda in 2007 were seen used by South Sudanese forces following the embargo, constituting a further breach of the ban on arms transfers. Only months after the embargo, Israel invited South Sudanese officials to its 2015 weapons expo in Tel Aviv.
In 2017 Israeli lawyer Eitay Mack inquired about the nature of these sales to countries falling under arms embargoes, such as South Sudan, as export licenses continued to be issued for “military equipment deemed defensive”. He also called upon Israeli officials to immediately revoke the licenses and lead a criminal investigation of the issue. After receiving all relevant information from the defense ministry, the Israeli high court agreed there was nothing unlawful about these sales, and kept court procedures under a gag order. Israel is renowned for its secrecy agreements with various states, and its refusal to comment on the nature of recent sales to Sri Lanka.
Most recently, access to free information was provoked by Mack and historian Yair Auron, who filed access via the Israeli Freedom of Information Act to uncover Israel’s history of arms trade to Rwanda during the genocide. This enterprise was cut short, as the court argued that information on Israel’s trainings of militias and government forces ahead of the genocide, just like its role in providing arms during the genocide, would fall under Section 9 of Israel’s Freedom of Information Act and, on grounds of harming its foreign relations and furthermore concerning the actions of the Defense Ministry, shall not be disclosed.
The story, however, does not end with aiding militias and forces involved in the Rwandan genocide: Israel has provided military training to African countries for decades. As early as 1959, Israeli support was requested by the Belgians who found Israeli techniques to be “useful” to their rule over the Congo – while asserting that Africa provided great economic potential to Israel. Later, Zaire’s connection to Israel remained friendly in nature, due to military support in exchange for access to Zaire’s diamonds. Israel, however, saw its greatest profit in the nature of these exchanges turning “quasi diplomatic”.
Notably, the profitability of Israeli arms is inherently linked to the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories, and specifically the siege on Gaza, as shown by the UK based Campaign Against Arms Trade in 2021.
This profitability of frequent attacks on the besieged Gaza strip not only play into the hands of the Israeli arms industry and political rhetoric at large, which profit immensely from the ongoing siege of Gaza, but directly benefit arms companies, too. A striking example of this was the increase in profits during the first month of the 2014 war on Gaza – euphemistically titled “Operation Protective Edge” by Israel. Israel’s largest weapons provider, Elbit Systems, observed a profit increase of 6.4%. Having been ‘tested’ upon the captive population of Gaza, Israeli weapons then enter the global arena, marketed as “battle-proven”. This distinguishing fact boosts trade to repressive regimes, worldwide.
Retaliatory measures and acts of collective punishment, such as further limitations on freedom of movement and economic pressure, are to be expected from the SoI should Palestinian officials demand accountability from international institutions, such as the ICC, the ICJ and the UN. The Palestinian Authority’s appeal at UNGA was considered “political and legal war against the State of Israel”, according to a statement released by the Israeli Prime Minister on January 6th.
This type of threatened punishment by means of political and/or economic sanctions extends into pushing and mobilizing for the withdrawal of international support for the independence of the State of Palestine through the normalization of state relations between Arab or African states with Israel. Nevertheless, many of these states, who previously had NDAs with Israel, were already actively engaged in purchasing weapons. Despite not being formalized for years to come, relations of this type constituted not only a form of trade but also a type of political alliance themselves.
One of the many results of this informal building of relations was the attempt by Israel to persuade the U.S. and European states to lift the sanctions against Sudan, following the end of Sudan’s alliance with Iran.
Looking at the conditions on the ground in Palestine, there are claims that Israel’s global fight against antisemitism had been “null and void” from the beginning in light of the apartheid-like structures and racist laws. To genuinely fight against antisemitism, it would be necessary to end racism inside and outside Israel – and this would effectively mean putting an end to Israeli support for racist and genocidal regimes across the world.
With regards to normalization, it is evident that severing the ties with undemocratic or repressive regimes and those actively engaging in genocidal warfare is not in Israel’s interest. Following joint military trainings, a Nigerian government spokesman noted seeing Israel as an ally in fighting Boko Haram in 2015, citing Israel’s experience “fighting terror within its own borders“. While the Nigerian government has gained notoriety for indiscriminate arrests and mass imprisonment on suspicion of aiding and abetting terror, it has additionally begun to employ Elbit’s cybersecurity software, increasing suspicions of possible human rights violations and misuse of the technology. Given the Israeli armed forces’ egregious and illegal occupation of the West Bank and besiegement of Gaza, this leaves the question: is Nigeria, despite its alleged support for the Two-State Solution, giving Israel the green light for further annexation of the occupied West Bank?
Internationally, Palestine solidarity activists, environmental activists and groups campaigning against the international arms trade have been disrupting the expansion of weapons sales, affecting Israeli manufacturers specifically. The most notable of such campaigns is the ongoing effort by the U.K-based direct action network Palestine Action, who vow to dismantle British support for the apartheid state’s continued genocide of Palestinian people by targeting Elbit Systems, an Israeli weapons manufacturer with a strong presence in the U.K. Elbit’s two permanently closed premises, in London and Manchester, as well as the multi-million-pound contract losses with the British Ministry of Defense, testify to the success of the sustained and relentless direct action technique employed by Palestine Action. Further underscoring the link between Israeli crimes and negative environmental impact, the group also collaborated with local chapters of Extinction Rebellion in the occupation of Elbit’s now-abandoned headquarters in London, in April 2022.
Meanwhile, in Weelaunee Forest, Atlanta one activist has been murdered and many more brutalized in the efforts to Stop Cop City, a ‘police training facility’ which will train and accommodate police forces also trained by Isaeli forces. Police forces in Atlanta, Georgia, have long been part of a training program titled “GILEE”, in which they are trained in “counter-terrorism tactics”. What started out as a brief program in 1996, in preparation for the Olympics, has developed into a program of multiple training excursions a year. Organizers and anti-racist activists, such as the Community Movement Builders, however, have kept an eye on this training program in their fight for the de-funding and abolition of the police and demand that,
“Police Departments will terminate all contracts with military and mercenary consultants. In particular, any and all contracts with the Israeli Defense Force or any subsidiary that trains police in the U.S. to use the same deadly tactics used against Palestinians fighting for their human rights.”
As pointed out by the campaign End the Deadly Exchange, a campaign against mutual training programs between the USA and Israel, “In these programs, ‘worst practices’ are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing in both countries. These include racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.”
To better understand the global effect of the spread of Israeli arms, technology, and methodology, it is paramount to extend our gaze beyond this most obvious connection.
In pursuit of democracy, we should follow the links created through the transfer of arms and military knowledge, especially those included in NDAs. Obstruction of access to information to its own population, measures have to be undertaken to ensure necessary information is provided internationally in a timely manner, regardless of whether or not this is considered to be putting Israel’s foreign relations at risk. After all, the international community must follow its obligation to protect people, not profit, and counteract Israel’s deliberate sidelining of human rights violations as it does globally.
First steps have also been taken by the Pan-African Palestine Solidarity network, founded in 2021 with members across 20 countries, that calls for the removal of Israel as an observer state to the African Union in accordance with the AU’s anticolonial nature. Israel is hereby identified as a danger to anti-colonial movements and, based on its repeated violation of international law, to the AU.
Alys Samson Estapé warns: “The crimes Israel commits against the Palestinian people do not stay in the Occupied Territories. They are transformed into knowledge which is then sold so that other Israeli and international companies can profit off of them.“