Israel’s rising arms trade is once again making headlines. Israeli and international media are reporting that sales soared to US$7.5 billion last year, a significant jump on the $5.8 billion raised in 2011. SIBAT, the defense export and defense cooperation agency of the Ministry of Defense, has predicted a similar figure for the current year.
The figures have drawn mixed reactions due to their size, but one of the most noteworthy aspects of this activity is the period in which Israel managed to clinch major arms deals.
During 2011-2012, major European nations and the US had to cut down on their defense budgets due to the economic crisis. Further, the US has also withdrawn its troops from Iraq (and is in the process of doing the same in Afghanistan). Despite these events, the diminutive Jewish state maintained its age-old trade elsewhere, and profitably.
At this juncture, what needs to be reckoned is the emergence of potential and lucrative defense markets beyond the above-mentioned regions. Currently, Asia-Pacific remains a major target for Israeli arms sales.
The country’s connection with Southeast Asia could be traced back to the period during the 1950s when it sold Myanmar military equipment such as machine gun ammunition, bombs, rockets and spare engine parts.
From the late-1970s onward, Israel and the People’s Republic of China started to carry out clandestine military relations, which ultimately resulted in them establishing diplomatic relations in January 1992 – the same year India also normalized relations with the Jewish state.
Today, countries such as South Korea, Singapore and India are benefiting immensely from Israel’s military transfers.
Historically, since its establishment in May 1948, Israel has been an important player in the international arms trade, both as a recipient and as a supplier. Its major arms suppliers were Czechoslovakia (in the late 1940s and early 1950s), France (in the 1950s and until 1967), and the United States since the late 1960s.
Simultaneously, Israel has been using arms sales and other forms of military-security assistance to pursue its wider foreign policy objectives.
Such activities of Israel should not only be looked from commercial point of views as they also have political incentives. Because of its limited political, economic and diplomatic leverage, Israel has used arms sales and other forms of military assistance such as training and military upgrading to further its international clout.
Recent reports of Israel’s path-breaking arms sales identified South/Southeast Asia, Latin America, and few African countries to be its lucrative defense markets.
But the markets of Europe and North America have not been ruled out. It is worth noting that that Israeli defense exports to Asia-Pacific alone yielded $4 billion in 2012.
According to the Israeli English daily Ha’aretz, deals worth $1.6 billion have been signed with European countries; weapons and military technologies worth $1.187 billion were sold to the US and Canada; $604 million in exports were sold to Latin American countries, and $197 million to African countries.