Under aerobatics-filled skies, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit officially opened the Israeli pavilion at the Paris Air Show yesterday, where 13 leading Israeli defense firms are exhibiting.
Mofaz praised the contribution of the defense contractors, while Yossi Ben-Hanan, the head of Sibat - the official body that approves weapons and security exports - emphasized cooperation between the ministry and the export agency.
After cutting the ceremonial blue ribbon to open the pavilion, the official party toured the exhibits. But the handshakes and smiles between the heads of the defense industries and the Defense Ministry officials hid quite a bit of tension between the two groups - as a result of American pressure on Israel over defense exports. No one dared speak about it openly, because the Defense Ministry controls all weapons exports, but the industrialists know the Americans want two main things: to see a number of personnel changes at the very center of the power over Israeli defense exports and to receive advance information about Israeli defense sales. The Americans also want to be able to approve these export sales in advance, and not only rely on the ministry.
According to the talk at the air show, the Americans would be very happy to see the director general of the Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, looking for a new job; and they also would be pleased to see a replacement for the head of the ministry's procurement mission in the Washington embassy, Kuti Mor. There is a difference of opinion among the defense contractors as to whether the Americans also want to see Yossi Ben-Hanan go, along with Yehiel Horev - the Defense Ministry's chief of security.
The Defense Ministry is refusing to give in to U.S. demands over senior positions.
According to a number of the defense firms, all exports of Israeli companies to China, even those that do not contain American-produced parts, or are intended for civilian security markets - are subject to an American veto - even if they pose no threat to the U.S. military.
A number of the Israelis at the show said the Americans were now also insisting on having a veto over exports to India, and that they had also been told to lower their profile in sales to Latin America.
A number of participants criticized the Defense Ministry, claiming that the ministry had no strategy of its own to repond to the Americans. They claimed this is part of the reason Yaron has received no support from either the defense minister or the prime minister in the latest disagreement with the Americans.
This lack of strategy has led to the use of the pretext of the sale of banned technology to China to allow the Americans to supervise all Israeli defense exports to the Third World, said some of the participants.
The Israeli pavilion drew hundreds of visitors yesterday, and Elbit's audio-visual shows simulating flight drew the most attention, along with the Israel Aircraft Industries' show in another building.
A number of the Israeli executives spent quite a bit of time talking and doing business with each other, and in particular the sides to the Tadiran-Elisra merger - or non-merger as it may be - were seen discussing the problems surrounding the deal.
Elbit subsidiary El-Op won British aviation magazine Flight's award for its development of a system to let helicopter pilots - both military and civilian - identify potential hazards such as electrical lines or antennas. The system allows the pilots to recognize a 5-millimeter wire from a kilometer away during flight, said El-Op's CEO Haim Rousso.