Given it controls the movement of Palestinians and has imposed a total blockade of Gaza for 14 years, it is no surprise that Israel has well-resourced armed forces and has built up a large weapons industry.
Israel, an occupying power, is also the recipient of large amounts of military aid, particularly from the United States. It has helped Israel to develop a powerful high-tech military apparatus and become a weapons exporter.
Since the end of World War II, Israel has received more US foreign aid than any other country, according to the United States Agency for International Development. From 1946 to 2019, it received $243.9 billion and, since 1971, it has been among the top countries receiving the most US aid.
US support for Israel has increasingly gone to its military. According to a May 24 US News & World report, in 2019, of all US military assistance worldwide, Israel and Afghanistan accounted for 23% and 26%, respectively.
The report said 20% of Israel’s total annual military budget derived from the US.
The BBC on May 24 quoted a spokesperson from the US foreign assistance agency arguing: “US assistance helps ensure that Israel maintains its Qualitative Military Edge (QME) over potential regional threats”.
Whether the White House has a Democrat or a Republican president, there has been little difference in approach. In 2016, then US President Barack Obama signed an agreement with Israel to provide $38 billion in military aid over 2017-2018.
Global arms embargo call
The scale of Israel’s murderous violence against unarmed Palestinian civilians participating in the Great March of Return rallies in Gaza in 2018 prompted Amnesty International to call for an international arms embargo.
Every Friday, from March 30, 2018, until November 30, 2019, unarmed Palestinian protesters marched to the fence separating Gaza from Israel. They demanded the right to return to their families’ homes, from which they were expelled in 1948. They also called for an end to Israel’s punishing blockade of Gaza.
Every Friday, courageous unarmed Palestinian protesters braved live ammunition from Israeli soldiers. The scale of the injuries and the Israeli Defence Forces’ targeting of civilians prompted Amnesty International to speak out.
Amnesty International said that in most of the fatal cases it analysed, “victims were shot in the upper body, including the head and the chest, some from behind.”
“Eyewitness testimonies, video and photographic evidence suggest that many were deliberately killed or injured while posing no immediate threat to the Israeli soldiers”.
Amnesty renewed its call on governments to “impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel.
“The time for symbolic statements of condemnation is now over,” it said, adding that concrete action was needed to “stop the delivery of arms and military equipment to Israel”.
Failing to do this will “continue to fuel serious human rights abuses against thousands of men, women and children suffering the consequences of life under Israel’s cruel blockade”.
The US ignored Amnesty’s call, and increased its military aid to Israel.
The Australian government has also ignored the calls for an arms embargo on Israel, supporting the US approach.
Since 2018, Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison have been pushing for Australia to become one of the world’s top 10 arms exporters. Twenty million dollars of federal funding was allocated: $6.35 million for a strategic multi-year arms export campaign; $3.2 million to expand the Global Supply Chain program; and $4.1 million to build the capability of small and medium arms manufacturers.
The government and weapons companies have developed extensive partnerships with Israeli weapons manufacturers as well as US military companies.
Former Coalition defence minister Christopher Pyne was central to the formation of the Australia-Israel Defence Industry Cooperation Joint Working Group. As Pyne’s media release in August 2018 explained, this group aimed to “explore defence industry and innovation opportunities, identify export opportunities and support [Australian] industries to cooperate in the development of innovative technologies for shared capability challenges.”
This paved the way for a deal in 2018 between the Israeli government-owned military company Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and military and engineering company Varley Group to produce precision-guided anti-tank missiles and other equipment for Australia’s military. It is believed to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Rafael Advanced Defence Systems formed in 1948, the same year Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes. It develops and manufactures a variety of weapons used against Palestinians. Rafael has also partnered with the US company Raytheon, which has outlets in Australia.
Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest privately-owned arms and security company, produces 85% of the drones and land-based equipment used by the military, and is a big arms exporter.
It frequently advertises its weapons as being “field-tested” — a reference to the IDF’s extensive use of Elbit’s weapons on Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Elbit drones were used to attack civilians in Gaza in 2009, 2012 and 2014 as well as for surveillance. Elbit also makes weapons considered illegal under the rules of war including white phosphorous, cluster bombs and Flechette shells which disperse projectiles to a wide area, endangering innocent people.
Elbit Systems sold a $300 million command control system to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in 2010. Elbit announced the $5.5 million sale of “an investigation system” to the Australian Federal Police (AFP)in August 2013.
According to the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network, between 2000–2021, Elbit Systems and Elbit Systems Australia were awarded big contracts by the Department of Defence and the AFP.
Under Pyne, Elbit received a $1.4 billion joint contract with Harris Communications in 2016–2017. Elbit received several contracts, between 2018–2019, worth $89 million. Elbit Systems of Australia is also a major client of Pyne and Partners.
Some state governments are rushing to sign up with Israeli arms companies. Dan Andrew’s Labor government in Victoria announced in February it had partnered with Elbit Systems of Australia to establish an AI Centre of Excellence in Melbourne.
“The new Port Melbourne-based centre will facilitate collaboration between people and autonomous systems, with the support of Victorian universities and research organisations, to produce applications that can be used across the defence, homeland security, and emergency services sectors,” the media release announced.
Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said he was “proud” to support Elbit “grow its global footprint in Melbourne, an investment that will boost the commercialisation of defence innovations and create new local jobs”.
Minister for Economic Development Tim Pallas said: “By partnering with defence innovators like Elbit we are investing in Victoria’s future — creating jobs, attracting global tech leaders and cementing our position as a first-class destination for businesses from all over the world.”
The Victorian 2020–2021 budget allocated $6 million to support the growth of the state’s defence sector, including attracting international arms companies such as Elbit.
Links between the ADF and Elbit extend beyond trade in arms and military technology. Elbit employs many former Australian military personnel. It has its headquarters in Canberra and major offices and facilities in Queensland, ACT and Victoria.
Israel arms genocidal regimes
No dictatorship is too repugnant for Israel to arm.
Israel supplies weapons and military training to whoever will hand over the money, including genocidal regimes such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Serbia, Southern Sudan and Rwanda — where populations have suffered decades of ethnic conflict. Thailand, Indonesia, and the repressive Rodrigo Duterte Philippines government also buy weapons from Israel.
Many of these deals are shrouded in secrecy.
It is known, however, that Israel exported weapons to Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, but the Israeli courts have repeatedly denied Freedom of Information requests to make the information public.
Hundreds of thousands of members of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered during the Rwandan genocide. Israel violated international law by exporting weapons to Rwanda when the United Nations Security Council had imposed a weapons embargo.
Israeli officials made a secret visit to Rwanda in 2018, to sell weapons and military technology. In return, Rwanda accepted Israel’s deportation of African asylum seekers.
Richard Silverstein, in 2018 published an article titled Israel’s Genocidal Arms Customers in Jacobin about the secrecy surrounding Israeli arms shipments to genocidal regimes.
Silverstein wrote that Israel had censored two reports that year that revealed Israel was arming nations and groups engaging in mass terror.
One report exposed Israel’s arming and training of the Sri Lankan military, which carried out genocide against the Tamil population in 2009. Between 40,000 to 75,000 Tamils were slaughtered during the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
Silverstein also said that Israeli-supplied drones directed planes and warships, also made in Israel, to target and bomb civilians and humanitarian sites. The Sri Lankan troops, which carried out these crimes, had received IDF and Israeli police training. In one horrific incident in 2006, the Sri Lankan military used Israeli Kfir planes to bomb an orphanage where 400 girls lived.
It was discovered in 2016, that Israel had supplied military training and weapons to the Serbian war criminal Radko Mladic. Mladic commanded the Serbian forces responsible for the massacre of thousands of Bosnian civilians at Srebrenica.
During the genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, Israel sold weapons to the Myanmar military government. Almost the entire Rohingya population has been purged from Myanmar as a result of the genocide.
Silverstein highlighted a 2018 Jerusalem Post article that confirmed, for the first time, that the IDF had supplied weapons and ammunition to al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
Israel has always claimed to be neutral in the Syrian civil war. Silverstein reported on the Israeli military providing the al-Nusra rebels with intelligence and communications equipment. It also built a camp for the families of al-Nusra fighters inside the Israeli-occupied Golan.
The Palestine solidarity and Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements have called for a comprehensive military embargo on Israel in 2011.
You can follow the ongoing campaign here, and read the set of demands below.
[Sue Bolton is a member of the Socialist Alliance and is a councillor in the Moreland City Council.]
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Break military ties with apartheid Israel
The Palestine solidarity movement, including BDS, is campaigning for a mandatory and comprehensive military embargo on Israel.
Its demands include:
• Stop providing Israel with arms, including the sale or transfer of weapons and ammunitions, military vehicles and equipment and paramilitary police equipment;
• Stop all military and dual-use imports (equipment, assistance and munitions) from Israel; Stop the transfer of military products to and from Israel through national ports, territory and airspace;
• Stop cooperation with the Israeli army, military companies and military-related research and development projects, including joint ventures (whether bilateral or multilateral);
• Halt all military-related training and consultancies involving the Israeli army, military companies and academic research institutions; and
• End all military aid to Israel; and Refrain from any cooperation with Israel in the manufacture and development of nuclear weapons and mobilise for a nuclear-free Middle East.