Defense Ministry Won’t Discuss Israeli Arms Sales to War-torn South Sudan

East African country, in midst of civil war, sent delegates to recent arms expo in Tel Aviv.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Soldiers in South Sudan.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Defense Ministry has declined to comment on whether Israel continues to sell arms to South Sudan while a civil war rages there.

About a month ago, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) wrote to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, asking that arms exports to the East African country be stopped and that Ya’alon annul or suspend export licenses granted by the department in the Defense Ministry that monitors defense exports.

“There must be public transparency in the matter of defense exports, especially during a civil war, to allow the public to receive all the information needed to hold the necessary dialogue on the issue,” Zandberg wrote Ya’alon.

But the Defense Ministry’s response, which came about three weeks ago, gave no details about defense exports.

The defense minister’s chief of staff, Haim Blumenblatt, wrote Zandberg, “The defense export policy to all countries is scrutinized periodically by the Defense Ministry, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry and other bodies, in accordance with the military and political interests of the State of Israel, and including considerations of human and civil rights in the export destination countries.”

Without mentioning South Sudan explicitly, the Defense Ministry’s reply added, “Of course, the existence of a civil war in the export destination country also impacts the defense export policy to that country. From the abovementioned policy, decisions are made by the authority certified to grant or withhold, suspend or annul licenses.”

Early last month, an official delegation from South Sudan visited Israel and took part in the International Defense and Security Expo in Tel Aviv. The delegation was reportedly headed by the South Sudanese transportation minister, Kuong Danhier Gatluak.

A South Sudanese delegation also took part in an exhibition focusing on domestic security six months ago.

Zandberg appended to her letter a legal opinion by attorney Eitay Mack, who noted that he had been informed of the presence of Israeli arms dealers on flights to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Mack also noted that security forces in South Sudan were armed with the Israeli-made Galil ACE assault rifle.

Israel tries to maintain ambiguity with regard to its arms sales and does not reveal the names of the countries to which it exports arms, arguing that doing so would lead to those countries cutting their strategic ties with the state.

Nevertheless, it is known that in recent years the extent of arms exports to African countries has been continually on the rise – from $107 million in 2010 to $318 million last year.

According to UN Register of Conventional Arms data from last year, African states have significantly stepped up their purchases of missiles and missile launchers in recent years – two areas in which Israel is considered a world leader.

In an interview with Israeli financial daily Globes last month, Col. (res.). Dubi Lavi, head of the Defense Export Controls Agency, said, “There are countries to which we have blocked defense exports in recent years and canceled export licenses, and there are countries to which we opened exports.”

Lavi said he did not think Israel was arming entities in countries where a civil war was currently going on. Further, he added that he would not approve the sale of lethal weapons to a country where he knew this was happening.

However, the United States did stop the sale of Israeli weapons last year, citing concern over harm to civilians. It happened last summer, when the Americans prevented a deal for the sale of decommissioned Cobra helicopters from Israel to Nigeria.

The U.S. State Department’s spokeswoman said the deal was stopped out of concern that Nigeria would use this type of helicopter in its fight against Boko Haram.

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