Israel ranks as the third largest arms-purchaser among developing nations, according to a new U.S. government study.
The study, compiled by the Congressional Research Service, also places Israel eighth on the list of countries that supply arms to Third World nations in 1994.
The reported highlighted the fact that France has replaced the United States as the leading arms supplier to developing countries worldwide.
Israel’s agreements to purchase $2.4 billion in arms were outstripped only by Saudi Arabia, which agreed to the purchase of $9.5 billion in arms, and by China, which agreed to purchase $2.5 billion.
The $2.4 billion included the agreement to purchase 20 F-15Is, the centerpiece of Israel’s future long range deterrent capability. Those planes will not be fully delivered or paid for until 1997.
In the last three years, Israel agreed to a total of $1.9 billion in arms purchases.
Israel actually received $1.1 billion in arms deliveries in 1994, surpassed only by Saudi Arabia, which received $5.2 billion, and Egypt, which received $1.5 billion.
At a time when Israel moves down the road toward peace, the increase in arms purchases appears paradoxical.
Although officials at the Israeli Embassy declined to comment about the arms purchases, pro-Israel officials here emphasized the importance of a strong military even as peace negotiations continue.
“While Israel is committed to pursuing peace with its neighbors, Israel can’t base its long-term defense planning solely on short-term developments,” said Toby Dershowitz, media affairs director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.
Military experts also point out that while countries such as Syria might spend less on arms, they are often buying offensive weapons that might cost less.
In addition, Israel’s military budget could actually swell as the peace process moves forward, according to some experts.
Territorial concessions with Syria, for instance, could require an increase in Israel’s quantity of precise and sophisticated weapons, they say.
At the same time, a more modern military system could also strengthen Israel’s position at the bargaining table, experts say.
In addition to being a major arms purchaser, Israel ranks high on the supply side as well.
According to the study, Israeli delivered $200 million in weapons to developing countries in 1994, the eighth highest amount in the world and more than any other Middle Eastern nation.
Despite an overall reduction in arms deliveries to developing nations, the Middle East as a whole remains a hotbed of arms deals.
Although arms purchases in the region increased in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, they have decreased in the past year both because of financing problems in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and because those countries are still absorbing recent purchases, according to a military analyst who asked not to be identified.
Still, Middle East nations purchased nearly 60 percent of all arms transferred to Third World countries in 1994.
According to the study, the value of all arms deliveries to developing nations was “the lowest total for any year during the 1987-1994 period.”