Defense Ministry Seal Can Make or Break Israeli Arms Exporters

A special letter stating that the Israeli army uses the weapons is 'simply worth money.'

Moshe Ya'alon, then the defense minister, at an arms expo in Azerbaijan, 2014.
Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry

The Israeli defense establishment sends foreign clients dozens of letters every year attesting to the quality of Israeli-made weapons, giving the country’s arms exporters a key advantage over foreign competitors,

The Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate, better known by its Hebrew acronym Sibat, sends letters signed by the agency’s chief confirming that the weapons were tested by Israeli soldiers.

Israeli arms exporters regularly request such letters for the item or service they are trying to sell, and a letter with the signature of Sibat’s director — currently Brig. Gen. (ret.) Mishel Ben Baruch — is usually forthcoming.

The document guarantees that the product has been tested and used by the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli companies tout the fact that their technology is used by the IDF, and the term “IDF Proven” appears in official publications and presentations geared for the foreign market.

A man linked to one defense contractor says the letter, along with media reports or military brochures specifying the item’s military use, cannot be underestimated. “It’s simply worth money,” he said.

Sibat officials say the letters are part of the agency’s mandate to promote and expand defense exports. On its Hebrew website, the Defense Ministry says these letters also guarantee that the manufacturer is an approved exporter.

The ministry does not demand payment or other considerations for the letters, and before a letter is sent it is usually approved by the IDF as well.

Haaretz filed a Freedom of Information Act request for data on the number of letters sent in recent years, and whether the agency has ever refused to provide one. The Defense Ministry said Sibat issues dozens of letters every year and in some cases requests for letters are denied.

The ministry said it had not collected data on the number of letters sent or on requests denied, but this week it had begun monitoring these figures.

“Sibat aids Israel’s arms industry in a variety of ways, including through support for exporters and recommendation letters to defense and government agencies in various countries,” the Defense Ministry said.

“Each request for assistance from defense exporters is assessed on an individual basis and receives the consent of all authorized parties. With no connection to your request, on January 1, 2016, computerized tracking of all recommendation letters was introduced. Sibat will continue to make every effort to help the defense industries export and market their products worldwide.”