Investigations by the Shin Bet and police into the alleged sale of military technology to an unnamed Asian country may become one of the most serious security issues in recent memory. Defense officials are concerned that the case may have far-reaching consequences involving a large number of people and potential intelligence and technological fallout.
The affair could also have implications for defense ties between Israel and the United States, just after President Joe Biden’s new administration, which already harbors suspicions toward Israel, has taken over. It will cast a wholly unnecessary pall over ties with Washington, which has been briefed on the affair.
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This mysterious Asian country, whose name has been placed under gag order, is not an enemy of Israel’s. It’s not Iran. But Israel’s economic ties with it have been loaded for years, whether for fear of angering other states or because of the risk that expertise passed to this country could fall into the wrong hands or be used for industrial espionage against Israel. This is one of the reasons that Israel has somehwat tightened its supervision on security deals companies make with countries in Asia.
More than 20 Israelis have been interrogated so far in connection with this affair. It appears some of them are familiar to the police and Shin Bet from previous investigations.
These civilians, among them former employees of defense sector employees, are suspected of conducting advanced experiments in developing loitering missiles, an attack weapon at the forefront of military technology.
The investigators are troubled by several aspects of the affair. First, the technology smuggled illegally from Israel to the Asian country could make its way to enemy nations. Second, quite a few former defense employees are involved, including some who were in senior military positions. Third, these were apparently not naive individuals who had been led astray, but were rather well aware of the rules on defense exports and the fact that Israel had not authorized the deals. Fourth, large sums of money totaling millions of shekels had exchanged hands.
Fifth, and perhaps most serious of all, numerous attempts at concealing the sales were allegedly made, using middlemen and intricate money transfers intended to bypass Israeli authorities.
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This isn’t the first time in recent years that similar suspicions have arisen. Only about a year ago, a similar matter involving defense export deals of a smaller scope, was investigated. There may, in fact, be a link between the incidents. The defense establishment, together with the justice system, will have to deal with the new suspicions thoroughly to find the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Perhaps more importantly, Israel will have to conduct itself with complete transparency vis-a-vis its partners in Washington. This will be required to prevent negative baggage from accumulating and clouding the defense ties between the countries, following similar past investigations that have angered previous American administrations.