Israel Approves 99.8 Percent of All Weapon Export Requests

The Defense Ministry processes about 8,300 export requests to 130 countries a year; over the past five years, 98 applications have been rejected

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A visitor walks past the Israeli stand, displaying the Harop drone, top, a long endurance loitering weapon system during the first day of the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, Monday June 17, 2013.(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
The Israeli stand, displaying the Harop drone, top, a long endurance loitering weapon system at the Paris Air Show.Credit: Remy de la Mauviniere / AP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Defense Ministry approved 99.8 percent of requests from local manufacturers to export weapons over the past five years, according to data being revealed here for the first. 

Exports of arms, military know-how and technology require permits from the Defense Ministry, including a marketing license, which has be obtained before negotiations with a foreign client begins, and an export license, which is sought once the contract is in hand.

The Defense Ministry says it processes around 40,000 marketing permit requests a year, for exports to 190 countries. The number of export requests is much smaller, about 8,300 a year to 130 countries. 

Based on figures given to the Movement for Freedom of Information, between 2012 and 2016, a total of 98 applications for export permits were refused. That amounts to a 99.8 percent approval rate for applications to export arms, military know-how and technology.

In 2016, 22 applications for export licenses were rejected, similar to the previous year. In 2014, however, 36 export applications were turned down, compared to just six in 2013. 

The main filter when it comes to exporting Israeli weapons is at the stage of requesting a marketing license, which is necessary before even starting negotiations to sell equipment for warfare to a foreign client. Even scheduling a meeting at a hotel following an arms convention in Israel, for instance, requires the participants to have a marketing license from the Defense Ministry. However, according to figures Haaretz has obtained, the ministry approves over 90 percent of the requests for such licensing. 

In 2011, the ministry refused 6 percent of the requests for marketing licenses. In 2013, it rejected 8 percent. The figures for the following years are similar.

At conference held recently for defense exporters, the director of the Defense Export Control Agency, Racheli Chen, said that the policy is lenient. "The tendency is to see how to approve [export license requests], and not how not to approve," she said. 

The ministry did not give the reasons for rejecting permit applications, citing national security and foreign relations concerns. Based on past cases, though, the main reason for rejection seems to be changing policies at the ministry, or its commitment not to allow arms sales to certain countries.

Ministry presentations by the Defense Export Control Agency tell exporters that the considerations underlying its policy are Israeli national security and foreign policy, international commitments, aspects of technological exposure regarding advanced armaments, international supervision over arms trading, but also the interests of the Israeli military manufacturing industry. 

Israeli weapons on display at an international exhibition.Credit: Rami Shllush

Israel does not sell arms to countries that have committed genocide, said Dubi Lavi, the former head of the Defense Export Control Agency.

“To the extent we know of this being the case, we block exports. During the approval process, done together with the Foreign Ministry, that is one of the central considerations we take into account,” Lavi told Haaretz. “Unequivocally, we don’t export to countries in which UN sanctions are in place due to genocide. In other places, when things develop and we identify deterioration in the internal situation, we stop the exports.” 

Israel had promised a UN delegation, for instance, not to sell lethal weapons to South Sudan — but did sell the government there equipment to track opponents.

In early 2016, the Defense Ministry changed its policy toward Burundi, removing it from the list of nations exempt from the requirement to obtain a marketing license, because of political deterioration there, and concern that human rights were being violated.  

“Thousands of military export licenses are granted each year, based on the data given to us," commented Nirit Blayer, the executive director of the Movement for Freedom of Information. "The Defense Ministry submitted the numbers but not the content of the requests, so we cannot know what the Israeli contribution is to bloodshed around the world, compared with its involvement in exporting defense systems, for example."

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