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Israel Turns Gaza Conflict into Record Arms Sales

 Robert Inlakesh  

For the third consecutive year Israeli weapons sales hit a record high in 2023, reflecting a trend in which there is a direct correlation between Palestinian deaths inflicted and the amount of revenue generated by Israel's weapons industry.

Despite  calls from leading human rights groups and  UN experts for nations to halt weapons transfers to Israel, the flow of military equipment continues largely unimpeded. Concerns have been raised that supplier countries could be held accountable for violations of international law. This concern is particularly pertinent for Israel's two largest weapons suppliers, the United States and Germany. However, another issue receiving less attention is the ongoing purchase of Israeli military technology by other nations, marketed by Israel's leadership on behalf of its private weapons companies.

Statistics released by the Israeli Defense Ministry on Monday revealed that the country's weapons exports skyrocketed last year,  valued at a record $13 billion. This marks a $500 million increase from the previous year and roughly double the amount of exports from five years ago. The Asia and Pacific region accounted for nearly half of all sales, Europe for 35%, and North America for 9%.

In a  statement, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant emphasized the dual focus of Israel's defense industries. "While our industries are primarily focused on providing the defense establishment with the capabilities to support our troops and defend our citizens, they are also continuing to pursue areas of cooperation and exports to international partners," he said.

On October 22, at the start of the war on Gaza, the Israeli military released a  promotional video showcasing the deployment of a new precision-guided 120mm mortar bomb called the 'Iron Sting' inside the Gaza Strip. The bomb, manufactured by Haifa-based Elbit Systems, has been publicly promoted since 2021.

Though a private Israeli company, Elbit Systems benefits significantly from the Israeli military and leadership's promotional efforts. Benny Gantz, the former Defense Minister and recent member of Israel's emergency war government, previously highlighted the Iron Sting bomb as "designed to engage targets precisely, in both open terrains and urban environments, while reducing the possibility of collateral damage and preventing injury to non-combatants."

Following each military operation against Gaza since the imposition of the blockade in 2006, Israeli weapons sales have surged. This trend was particularly notable after the 2014 attack on Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 2,300 Palestinians. During this period, the Israeli daily Haaretz  reported that the military was turning the war into a "cash cow."

In 2018, during the Great Return March, a mass non-violent demonstration movement in Gaza calling for the implementation of international law, Israeli soldiers killed over 230 Palestinian civilians and injured tens of thousands, while not a single Israeli soldier or civilian was killed. Claiming a right to self-defense, Israel used the protests to battle-test a range of drones, sniper rifles, and new "security fence" technology. The most notable piece of weapons technology  promoted was a drone called "Sea of Tears" that can hold and fire tear gas.

From 2021 onwards, Israeli weapons sales have skyrocketed, following a period of stagnation. The change was spurred by Israel's 11-day war with Gaza in May 2021, during which the military advertised its use of AI to carry out high-tech strikes, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians.

In 2021, 2022, and 2023, the death toll for Palestinians in the West Bank grew each year, reaching levels not seen since the Second Intifada in 2005. In 2022, the Israeli military promoted technology battle-tested in the West Bank, notably using attack drones to carry out  targeted assassinations of Palestinians.

The bulk of Israel's weapons sales profits come from its air defense systems and components, which facilitate ongoing profits through exports during the ongoing war. One of the biggest weapons contracts  signed in 2023 was for the Arrow 3 long-range air defense system, purchased by Germany for $4.3 billion.

Preserving the prestige of Israeli air defense systems is a clear objective for the Israeli government and military. This was evident in their attempts to undermine the role of U.S. air defense systems during Iran's retaliatory attack against Israel in April, dubbed Operation True Promise. Despite reports  indicating that the U.S. downed the majority of Iran's missiles and drones, Israeli media focused on the  apparent failure of American air defense systems.

Israeli military propaganda has long extended to its highly touted Iron Dome air defense system. During the 2012 Gaza war, Israel claimed the Iron Dome had an 86% effectiveness rate. However, in 2013, defense expert Prof. Theodore Postol from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)  concluded that the Iron Dome was, at most, only 10% effective. Today, Israel claims the Iron Dome is 90% effective.

Feature photo |Israeli soldiers from the artillery unit store tank shells in a staging area at the Gaza border, Jan. 1, 2024. Leo Correa |AP

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show 'Palestine Files'. Director of 'Steal of the Century: Trump's Palestine-Israel Catastrophe'. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47