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Who Can Control Israel’s Arms Dealers?

Ten years ago, FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds revealed that the defense ministries of several major recipients of United States military hardware were being scrutinized because they had been falsifying end-user certificates, claiming that the equipment was intended for their own use while at the same time arranging to sell it to other militaries that were blocked from receiving the sensitive technology. In May 2006, I described in a Deep Background column [1] for TAC how the two countries most heavily engaged in the practice—Israel and Turkey—also benefited from their connections with leading neoconservatives in Washington. Richard Perle and Doug Feith in particular benefited financially from their ties to defense industries in Israel while also serving as richly rewarded [2] “consultants” for Turkish interests. Feith’s International Advisors Inc., a registered agent for Turkey in 1989-1994, was paid $600,000 a year by Turkish sources, while Richard Perle received $48,000 annually as a consultant. Feith has also long been associated with Northrop Grumman sales in the Middle East. While at the Pentagon in 1983, Perle was criticized [3] for endorsing the U.S. Army’s purchase of an armaments system from an Israeli company that had paid him $50,000 in consulting fees one year before.

Turkey, like Pakistan and Egypt, has a powerful and somewhat autonomous military establishment. It does not have a law barring its active-duty military officers from having potentially conflicting outside business relationships. Indeed, much of its defense industry has traditionally been run by senior-level retirees, with active-duty officers sometimes having equity stakes in the various armaments companies. That basically means that the people making the key decisions on procurement are often able to deal with former colleagues, enabling both parties to benefit from the process. It differs from the revolving door at the Pentagon—where senior officers retire to the boards of defense contractors and then work to sell arms to former colleagues who themselves expect to climb on the gravy train someday—in that the Turkish decision-makers might actually have a direct and immediate beneficial interest in the result.

Israel operates similarly, though the arms trade is a much larger part of its total economic activity. The country’s main export is weapons, ranking it as the sixth largest [4] arms seller in the world by volume but number one [5] as a percentage of its overall economy. As in Turkey and the U.S., the business is largely run by retired senior officers. Unlike Turkey and the U.S., there have been a number of scandals [6] connected to Israeli weapons development and sales, including the arrests [7] of Israeli weapons dealers in Latin America and Africa. There has also been illegal activity [8] relating to the sale of restricted technology. The Israelis sold the F-16-derived avionics of the Lavi jet fighter that it was developing with U.S. funding to China, which then produced its own version, while the electronics of the U.S. Sidewinder air-to-air missile also went to Beijing, enabling it to produce a clone called the PL-8. The PL-8 was later sold by China to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

India also benefited from U.S.-developed technology pirated and sold by Israel when it purchased [9] the Israeli Phalcon version of the AWACS plane. In 2010 Tel Aviv sold electronic-warfare systems for the F-16 fighter to Pakistan, nominally an enemy country with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations. More recently, the Pentagon has balked [10] at giving Israel full maintenance access to the avionics on the F-35 air supremacy fighter planes that Israel will be receiving as part of its annual aid package because of concern that the electronics will be stolen.

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In Sibel Edmonds’s day, the Turks and Israelis were under investigation by the FBI because U.S.-made weapons incorporating restricted technologies were appearing in a number of countries not authorized to receive them, many of which were located in Central and South Asia as well as in Latin America. The weapons have also wound up in the hands of criminal cartels and narcotics traffickers, mingling arms sales with large-scale fraud, extortion, and drugs. In Turkey, these hidden relationships and the accompanying networking are frequently referred to as the “Deep State,” meaning those non-elected powerful figures who are able to provide cover for transnational illegal activity and are well-placed enough to prevent any serious inquiry into their dealings. The always in-demand weapons are frequently the specialty items that make the rest of the relationship work, and the keys to acquiring the arms are the end-user certificates. FBI investigators believed that both the Turks and Israelis were falsely declaring their intended use of the weapons to enable downstream sales elsewhere at inflated prices to meet demand from countries and groups that could not obtain them legally.

While Turkish interests are largely confined to the Near East and adjacent areas in Europe, the Israelis operate worldwide. Israeli arms dealers, security services, and consultants span the globe. They dominate the airport security industry and have also been linked [11] to training, equipping, and intelligence-gathering for corrupt and dictatorial regimes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Security companies sometimes work as stringers for Israeli intelligence and may have ties to criminal groups including burgeoning [12] Russian-Israeli organized crime in the United States.

The scale of Israeli legal and clandestine arms sales now appears to far exceed [13] anything that might have been imagined at the time when Sibel Edmonds was translating documents. Israel’s state controller, to its credit, has reported that there are major deficiencies in the supervision of the country’s arms-exporting companies, suggesting further that there have been abuses as a result. In a familiar pattern, those who issue the licenses also regulate those whom they license. The Israeli defense ministry approves arms exporters and also has oversight authority regarding them through its Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA). According to the state controller, DECA has failed to “ensure proper enforcement” of international norms and regulations on weapons sales.

As in Turkey, this failure to act is largely due to the fact that the arms trafficking is highly profitable and widely perceived as an acceptable perk for active and retired military officers. The Israeli defense ministry has licensed 6,784 arms dealers, a figure that makes this quite possibly the country’s largest private business sector. The ministry also disclosed that 6,684 individuals were involved in “security exports” during 2012, organized in 1,006 companies and 312 independent businesses, with 1,900 marketing permits and 8,716 export licenses issued. Presumably some of the numbers overlap, and the distinction between companies and independent businesses is by no means clear, though it does suggest that regulation of a large and politically sensitive industry has been perfunctory.

An Israeli district court has ordered that the names of some of the licensees be made public amidst additional revelations from the Defense Ministry that some companies involved in weapons deals “do not appear” on the list of registered dealers, suggesting that there is an underground industry operating alongside, and possibly in collusion with, the legal one. The Ministry is resisting naming any of the licensees “to protect the security of the state and its foreign relations.”

How the ongoing attempt by the Israeli courts and state controller to bridle the arms-export industry develops will be interesting to follow, as it pits the civilian rule of law against the most powerful component in the Israeli state, the country’s military. Patrick Tyler in his recent book [14] Fortress Israel likens Israel to a new Sparta, where a dominant state militarism and an increasingly martial culture are the driving forces behind expansionistic policies and reluctance to make peace. The army is the largest landowner in Israel and is increasingly engaged with the private sector and other institutions, including the universities, where there is a flourishing security-knowledge industry. For example, Prof. Yitzhak Ben Israel of the Social Sciences Department of Tel Aviv University works [15] on mathematical models for the success rates of targeted killings. He uses a substitution formula to predict how many people have to be killed to result in the collapse of an organization or political party.

A key component of the militarized state is the drive to increase the production and export of weapons while also becoming a global security-services provider. This has led to a certain recklessness about who is being trained, where the arms wind up, and what sensitive technology might be exposed in the process. The Pentagon has long been nervous about the freewheeling Israeli consultants and arms dealers operating worldwide, particularly as those weapons and expertise command the highest prices in areas of armed conflict. The United States, as the primary source and funder for advanced weapons for Israel, most definitely has a horse in the race as the arms flow frequently produces political instability, and the technology that is sold or bartered can endanger U.S. security. But it would be a non-starter for the Defense Department to go head-to-head with an indifferent Congress in any attempt to restrict Israel’s access to U.S. weaponry. So Israel will continue to sell and barter technology and weapons, legally or illegally, and the question becomes to what extent the Israeli government itself will put a brake on the unsavory side of that activity.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Who Can Control Israel’s Arms Dealers?"

#1 Comment By the colonel On August 1, 2013 @ 7:24 am

from the article;

“The United States, as the primary source and funder for advanced weapons for Israel, most definitely has a horse in the race as the arms flow frequently produces political instability, and the technology that is sold or bartered can endanger U.S. security. But it would be a non-starter for the Defense Department to go head-to-head with an indifferent Congress in any attempt to restrict Israel’s access to U.S. weaponry. So Israel will continue to sell and barter technology and weapons, legally or illegally, and the question becomes to what extent the Israeli government itself will put a brake on the unsavory side of that activity.”

you’re not really suggesting that US arms dealers, and their facilitators in government, are any different than their counter-parts, and customers, in Israel and Turkey, are you?

#2 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 1, 2013 @ 7:37 am

Thanks for this eye-opening exposure of how the arms industry has become a sort of supra-government. Laws and elected officials mean nothing to them. Why can Israel ignore US elected officials? Because they answer to a higher power –
the military-industrial complex.

#3 Comment By rebecca On August 1, 2013 @ 10:16 am

“Security companies sometimes work as stringers for Israeli intelligence and may have ties to criminal groups including burgeoning Russian-Israeli organized crime in the United States.”

I’ll remember this comforting thought the next time I go through airport security and get a full body scan, and they pat me down for whatever reason they want to come up with.

When I flew out of Las Vegas last fall, they patted the back of my legs down to check for lizards I supposedly might have been smuggling out of the desert, just because I had a t-shirt on that had a picture of young alligators on it. I guess if anyone is smuggling lizards, only the R-I thugs are allowed to do it so they can keep their corner on the lizard market, LOL.

#4 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On August 1, 2013 @ 11:00 am

I never knew this kind of thing was happening. Makes me wish we would stop sending restricted military hardware to pretty much anyone, shore up our technological gains and let the world scramble to keep up.

#5 Comment By Shenandoah On August 1, 2013 @ 11:06 am

“The army is the largest landowner in Israel and is increasingly engaged with the private sector and other institutions, including the universities, where there is a flourishing security-knowledge industry.”

It seems that the role of the IDF in Israel roughly parallels that of the PLA in China. The two are similarly corrupt, and enjoy a similarly dominant (and anti-democratic) role in their respective societies.

“This has led to a certain recklessness about who is being trained”

… and has downstream effects, as witness general employee quality at the TSA.

To your larger point, America seems to have been betrayed by a Congress that has allowed Israel to use our military technology to profit, to defy US foreign policy and to strengthen dangerous competitors like China.

Thanks for this valuable article.

#6 Comment By Clint On August 1, 2013 @ 11:22 am

Time for American taxpayers to call for a halt to foreign aid to these countries and punish those involved.

#7 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On August 1, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

This should be required reading for anyone seeking a rational and moral reassessment of relationship with the Zionist state. I hope it appears as the lead article in the print edition.

Most Americans are sadly unaware of just how deeply enmeshed we are with our “Allies” in Tel Aviv. While researching a small scandal in Pennsylvania regarding the farming out of Homeland Security intelligence to contractors, I discovered that the contractors were in fact Israelis. So the residents were being spied on by a foreign power with their own taxpayers money. Chillingly, the the Israeli master-spies reported that the biggest terrorism threats came from anti-abortion Catholics and anti-fracking environmentalists. And no I’m not making this up!

Needless to say big media never picked up on this.

#8 Comment By T. Sledge On August 1, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

Our so-called “allies” treat us like a certain young woman treats an old fool of my acquaintance:

She gets all tarted up around the time his retirement checks arrive, and visits the clown; needless to say she leaves with a big chunk of his money, and immediately goes out partying with a guy her own age.

I don’t recall who it was that said “great powers don’t have ‘friends’, they have interests.

Is it really in our best interest to continue to be the senile old fool who can’t pay his bills, but somehow manages to spring for his monthly “grifting” by the same little tart?

#9 Comment By REMant On August 1, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

You don’t think this country is essentially the same, with its financial-security complex?

#10 Comment By channelclemente On August 1, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

Maybe I remember incorrectly, but this arms issue was one of the reasons they put Pollard away for so long.

#11 Comment By Bill On August 1, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

Your conclusion is unsettling:

“But it would be a non-starter for the Defense Department to go head-to-head with an indifferent Congress …[T]he question becomes to what extent the Israeli government itself will put a brake on the unsavory side of that activity.”

Have we outsourced the defense of our national interest to a foreign country? If we have, it’s all over.

Maybe we should bring back compulsory military service so that our members of Congress can contemplate a future in which all of our children–theirs included– may be exposed to advanced weaponry made in the U.S.A.

But a taxpayer revolt will do in the meantime.

#12 Comment By William Dalton On August 1, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

All the more reason to support Rand Paul’s initiative to end military aid to Egypt. End aid to Egypt and the aid given to Israel, which also originated in the Camp David Accords, will be much less defensible.

#13 Comment By Stewart On August 2, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

Well, I see that my old friend TAC is still grinding the anti-Israel wheel. Yes, much of the article is true, but not for only Israel. Yet that’s not really important. Time keeps marching on. If anyone needs a real shake up, it’s TAC. I look forward to a new generation.

#14 Comment By Radu On August 2, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

This article begs the question(s):
-Who are our ‘numerous’ enemies? Al-Qeida, Bokka-Harram, Hezbollah, Iran, N Korea, etc? Or rather our ‘reliable allies’ Israel and Turkey? BTW no big-talk mouth has yet explained to me what did Iran to us? I know quite a few despicable things ‘our’ government did to them, in our name and our dime.
-At presidential inaugurations, the new president, with his hand on the God Book is promising to uphold the constitution and defend the country from external and INTERNAL enemies. Yeah right! Probably 90% of ‘our’ elected officials are liable for high treason, but they are powerful enough to evade the rule of law. The other facet of the coin is that anyone attempting to disclose those facts is dealt as harshly as possible- see J. Assange and the recent Snowden case. No international law is a barrier to the to our madness.

#15 Comment By sharkonreef On August 3, 2013 @ 6:56 am

I don’t think Congress is “indifferent” to Israel. More like an enabler for an irresponsible drunk.

#16 Comment By Mark Thomason On August 5, 2013 @ 12:40 am

Great article. This ought to have been discussed much more.

I’d differ on one thing: “It differs from the revolving door at the Pentagon—where senior officers retire to the boards of defense contractors and then work to sell arms to former colleagues who themselves expect to climb on the gravy train someday”

I don’t think that is really a difference. The US revolving door operates rapidly and with certainty. Our generals move on every year or two, and retire from their office of greatest influence directly to profit from their most recent actions. The “difference” is only a matter of months.

#17 Comment By geral On August 5, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

Certainly not the chief arms dealer on earth: usa.
No more heinous cowards have been hatched and nourished by the USA than the clandestine assassins of fbi/cia…

[16]

… no other way action may stop the hoodlums of federal burro of investigation (fbi) and their companions in wholesale murder, the cia…

[17]

… by the atrocities committed by these two agencies the United States of America is now forever known as a BEAST (Brain EntrAinment STate), a country w/o conscience, a people w/o heart who are cursed with a national character predominantly w/o soul…  

[18]

Torture & murder:

[19]

#18 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 7, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

Stewart said: “If anyone needs a real shake up, it’s TAC. I look forward to a new generation.”

Is this some sort of vague death threat? That’s what it reads like. Very thugish.