Should Retired IDF Officers Do Business in Arab States or Not?

It's the Israeli paradox: officers encouraged to do business in Arab states, but warned not to visit.

Yossi Melman
Haaretz Correspondent
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Yossi Melman
Haaretz Correspondent

The Swiss-based multinational company Asia Global Technologies (AGT) has won contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars for two major domestic security projects in one of the Persian Gulf emirates. News of the tender award appeared in March in the Persian Gulf business newsletter Zawya. According to the report, AGT won government contracts to carry out two major projects with the armed forces. The article noted that the agreements were for the provision of homeland security technology along the country's borders and at strategic offshore sites (oil wells).

The field of "homeland security" comprises integrated security, intelligence and border defense systems as well as command and control systems.

The report quotes Gary Lenz, calling him a "senior representative" of AGT. But in the biography distributed at a 2007 industry conference in Singapore, Kochavi is described as AGT's "founder and CEO." He is also described as the chairman of Sentry Technology Group, "one of the fastest growing security companies in the United States."

STG has partnered with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in the sale of airport security knowledge, equipment and technology in the United States and other countries, including in the Middle East. A source in IAI has said that a few months ago, because of disagreements, the company's partnership with Kochavi was terminated. STG recently paid tens of millions of dollars to Ness Technologies for a division that develops command and control systems.

Former Israel Air Force commander Major General (res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu worked for STG at one point. He told Haaretz, "I left the company several years ago and have not had any connection to since it began operating beyond the borders of the U.S."

However, Kochavi's companies employ dozens of former Israel Defense Forces officers, as well as former Mossad and Shin Bet security service officials.

Stepping up activities

Logic, another of Kochavi's companies, is based in Herzliya. Its employees include a retired IDF major general, a retired Armored Corps brigadier general and D., formerly a senior Shin Bet official. Until recently Kochavi also employed senior IAI and Elbit Systems personnel. A spokesman for Kochavi said in response: "All of activities are carried out in coordination with and under the guidance of the Defense Ministry and all its divisions."

Mati Kochavi is a former Israeli who lives in the United States and who made his fortune in real estate. Several years ago he became involved in the homeland security field, and this involvement increased after the September 11 attacks in 2001. He forged contacts within Israel's military establishment and began hiring high-ranking former officials in the field. A number of years ago he promised to establish a prestigious university on the Israeli-Jordanian border to promote bilateral relations. The initiative has not progressed since it was announced.

Around a dozen Israeli companies have in recent years stepped up their activities in Arab or Muslim states, including ones that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. These firms include Radom Aviation Systems, which installs systems in aircraft and whose chairman is former National Security Council head Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland); BlueBird Aero Systems, which manufactures Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, in which Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog is a partner). Also on this list are IAI and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which are under the control of the Defense Ministry. The total investment by Israelis in such projects exceeds $100 million.

Former Mossad, Shin Bet and IDF personnel conduct training in operating advanced security systems and intelligence equipment and also train locals in averting coups, hostage-taking or attempts to occupy strategic targets.

This extensive activity is puzzling on many levels. Last week it was reported that the defense establishment and the Counter-terrorist Unit warned former senior IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad personnel not to visit certain Arab countries for fear of kidnapping attempts Hezbollah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in revenge for the assassination of Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February. Haaretz reported that one of the individuals warned was a major general in the reserves, the publication of whose name was prohibited by the censor. The officer in question has claimed that he has never visited the Arab country implied. According to him, neither he nor other former defense officials, nor his current work colleagues, received such warnings.

The reports underline the paradox of the military establishment's conduct. On the one hand it encourages the defense industry to export Israeli security equipment and weapons, including to Arab states, especially pro-American ones that could be under the Iranian threat.

To increase exports these companies must maintain relations with and send representatives to these states. On the other hand these visits and relations can facilitate Hezbollah efforts to abduct Israelis, as in the case of Elhanan Tenenbaum who was lured into going to Abu Dhabi and abducted from it. Some of the emirates, particularly Abu Dhabi, have a significant representation of Iranian companies, some of which are fronts for the IRGC and Iranian intelligence.



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