Behind the Headlines Israel’s Arms Sales

The fact of Israel’s arms sales to many countries throughout the world — both of new Israeli-designed and manufactured items and also of used war material — is an open secret.

But details of what is sold, in what quantities and to whom, is a closely guarded secret. There is much speculation and many people not in the know appear to make statements, to the press and elsewhere. But those who know, don’t say anything. A request for details is met with a blank stare which seems to say: “How silly can you be to ask such a question?”

Some of the smaller Israeli-produced items which are sold abroad are not such a secret, though little information is available — apart from photographs in the press and on television. When the President’s guards or secret service operatives, or anti-terrorist squads are in action, they frequently are seen carrying Israeli-made Uzzi sub-machine-guns.

These weapons are also supplied to NATO countries. In an attack on President Reagan last year, his security guards were seen brandishing such Israeli made weapons. Other Israeli-manufactured war equipment on sale can be seen at Israeli pavilions at international air shows such as the prestigious Le Bourget show near Paris.

HIGHLY SATISFACTORY SALES

Here, in addition to Israeli-made aircraft, Israeli-designed and produced sophisticated electronic equipment, including radar and guidance systems, are on display — and obviously not for prestige or public relations purposes but rather for sale to anybody or any country interested. The sales are understood to be highly satisfactory.

But while there are few problems in the sale abroad of such wholly Israeli-produced items, there are far more problems with the sale of major items such as aircraft and tanks, parts of which — especially engines — are imported from countries such as the United States which demand veto rights over the final disposition of the weapons.

Israel is known to have offered for sale its Kfir fighter aircraft to a number of European and Latin American countries. These potential customers have expressed interest in the Israeli product, but sales have been blocked by American refusal to allow the deals to go through because of the U.S.-made engines.

ISSUE OF SALES TO NON-DEMOCRATIC NATIONS

Recent visits by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir to Latin American countries have focussed interest on the reported sale of used military equipment, including captured Soviet-made weapons, to those countries.

The interest has been aroused in part because of the non-democratic nature of many of those countries, as well as other countries in Africa. Feelings have been expressed that Israel should play no part in arms sales to such regimes.

What is overlooked in almost all such criticism is the fact that other democratic countries, including the U.S., Britain and France are also engaged in secret arms sales to those same countries, despite their dictatorships and other unpleasant characteristics.

Other sales of captured war material which have raised eyebrows throughout the world have included reported sales to Iran and to Argentina before and during the recent British-Argentine war. Criticism has also been expressed about arms sales to South Africa, because of its apartheid policies. But in none of these cases are any details available about what is being offered or sold, in what quantities and at what prices.

Also undisclosed is whether such sales are direct deals between governments, or whether they are the result of aggressive sales campaigns by Israeli arms merchants who are known to spend much of their time travelling about the world looking for customers for the vast quantities of arms captured in Israeli wars, or offering for sale equipment produced by Israel itself.

Arms sales are big business in any country. And in Israel they obviously are a welcome source of foreign currency, as well as the dubious advantage of helping to win political friends and influence otherwise unfriendly or neutral nations.

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