From Missile Boats to Machine Guns

Israel Shipyards Ltd., one of the companies owned by the Samy Katsav Group, designs and manufacturers military platforms such as missile boats, gunboats and guard boats, as well as civilian platforms that include freighters that carry up to 4,500 tons of general cargo.

Ora Coren
Ora Coren
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Ora Coren
Ora Coren

Israel Shipyards Ltd., one of the companies owned by the Samy Katsav Group, designs and manufacturers military platforms such as missile boats, gunboats and guard boats, as well as civilian platforms that include freighters that carry up to 4,500 tons of general cargo.

Another group company, whose products are familiar to most Israeli infantry units, is the Israel Weapon Industries (known as IWI ). The group bought the company, then called Magen, in 2005 from the government-owned Israel Military Industries.

"The newly purchased plant required thorough care after years of difficulties. The plant recovered and expanded substantially in terms of revenue and manpower, and exports 90 percent of its production," says Uri Amit, IWI's president.

The plant manufactures light weapons, ranging from handguns to light machine guns, and its flagship product is the family of Tavor rifles.

Katsav confirms that the Tavor was nearly ready for sale when he bought the factory.

Amit adds: "The flagship product today is the Tavor, which was developed in the IMI days and has since become a world-class product, which the Israel Defense Forces chose as standard issue for the infantry in the reduced version called the Micro Tavor (an assault rifle ). This rifle will do for Israel's reputation what the Uzi, which was also developed here, once did."

Katsav adds: "We completed the development of the Tavor and we introduced it to the market. We think that this is the best assault rifle in the world."

What sets apart the Micro Tavor, whose development Katsav takes responsibility for, is its size: It is two-thirds the length of a comparable weapon, making it more convenient to carry and operate. In addition, it is relatively lightweight, and is equipped with an optical sight and laser system that mark an object, including a concealed laser that does not shine a red dot on the object and therefore does not expose the weapon's bearer to the enemy.

The company developed and manufactures additional families of rifles, and even the veteran Uzi continues to sell, surprisingly enough, in its reduced versions - the Mini Uzi and Micro Uzi. Moreover, the Uzi is currently being upgraded and the company is planning to introduce an advanced version, which will have the option of optical components.

IWI is the largest company in the SK Group. The group also includes Meprolight, which develops and manufactures electro-optical products, mainly for light weapons, including night vision devices and a range of sights. The plant moved two and a half years ago to a new facility in Or Akiva. Since it was bought out a decade ago, its labor force has grown from 20 to 250, including its subsidiaries.

Katsav's daughter, Orly, 38, is the chair of the board of Meprolight. The plant exports 80-90 percent of its production to armed forces, law enforcement agencies, governments and other state entities. The company is also active on a small scale in the civilian market in the United States.

Katsav purchased a stake in Meprolight, which was owned by Kibbutz Maayan Zvi, and subsequently bought out the kibbutz's 35-percent stake in the plant.

"IWI and Meprolight are slated for expansion, with internal growth of tens of percent per year and by acquiring companies, mainly military firms," says Amit. "These companies are already among the world's best. Meprolight developed the best uncooled thermal sight; IWI is ranked first in the world among light weapons companies."

Meprolight has two subsidiaries. The first is Pulse Inteco Systems, an electro-optics firm that manufactures night vision devices and specializes in lasers and range finders. In 2010 Meprolight bought 50 percent of the PI Systems plant from its founders, Shmuel Weiner and Alex Wolfowitz. Katsav declined to state the precise purchase price, but said that it was "many millions of dollars." The Netanya plant will be moving to a new facility close to the Meprolight campus in Or Akiva.

The other is Synergy International Optronics, located in the U.S., in which Meprolight has a 49-percent stake. SIO specializes in night vision equipment for tanks and armored personnel carriers. The acquisition took place in 2003 for the purpose of industrial cooperation and as a means of expanding the activity in the American market.

Another company in the SK Group is Uni-Scope Optical Systems, located in Carmiel, which makes periscopes for tanks and armored personnel carriers. Katsav owns 75 percent of it, and the remaining shares belong to the company's CEO, Dani Marely. The plant employs close to 50 workers. (Ora Coren )

Hand-held gun.



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