Israel Eyes Expanding Export of Surveillance Systems in Shadow of Coronavirus

Defense Ministry tender asks civilian companies to provide information on security needs – including systems for tracking civilians – of ‘all countries of the world,’ excluding Iran, Syria and Lebanon

Yaniv Kubovich
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An Elbit drone flying over the skies of North Dakota in 2016
An Elbit drone flying over the skies of North Dakota in 2016Credit: Elbit Systems
Yaniv Kubovich

Israel’s Defense Ministry seeks to expand the country’s defense exports in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, including systems that track civilians. The ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate (SIBAT) published a request for proposals from civilian companies to provide business intelligence concerning export to “all countries of the world, apart from states that are forbidden to trade with (Iran, Lebanon, Syria).”

A significant part of the demands in the request for proposals has to do with various countries’ public security needs. Defense sources estimate that exports for internal security needs will take up a larger share of defense trade in the future, as the economic crisis ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic in many countries could lead to widespread protests, potentially destabilizing some regimes.

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Companies who make bids will be asked to provide information on target countries’ needs for biometric measures, systems for tracking people and vehicles and face recognition systems as well as systems for recognizing voices, images, license plates, cellular geolocation measures, intelligence cybersecurity systems and software for blocking or intercepting information online.

In addition to internal security procurement, the Defense Ministry is also seeking information on countries’ use and need of tanks, anti-tank missiles, artillery and air defense systems, aircraft, helicopters and battle ships as well as missile systems, simulators and electronic warfare devices for aerial vehicles and naval vessels.

The firms bidding on the project are also required to provide information that would be used by Israel’s defense industries in promoting exports. Apart from analyzing the security needs of the target countries, they are tasked with creating “country files” that will be updated several times year. These will include general information on each state, leading figures there, its political system and foreign relations, and an overview of external and internal threats and economic data, including information on its defense budget and defense procurement policy.

Prime Minister Netanyahu during a tour at an Israel Aerospace Industries plant,  2018.
Prime Minister Netanyahu during a tour at an Israel Aerospace Industries plant, 2018. Credit: Kobe Gideon / GPO

The project calls for information on all countries but the ones that Israel designates as enemy states, and it appears that the Defense Ministry is targeting Asian states as a principal expansion channel for Israeli exports. Firms making bids are asked to give an overview of these countries’ demand for “tactical drones” and “naval systems.” Apart from excluding Iran, Lebanon and Syria, with which Israeli law forbids trade, the request for proposals makes no reference to other countries that could be problematic in terms of trading in defense equipment or how that equipment may be used.

The Defense Ministry said in response that it “sees the defense industries and security exports as one of the main levers for the Israeli market’s growth. The International Defense Cooperation Directorate supports and assists defense exporters … year-round, and also now, following the coronavirus crisis. This is subject to their compliance with the defense export oversight policy.” It added it has provided “information and business intelligence in areas related to defense exports” for many years.

The ministry said the request for bids is being published now because its current provider’s contract will be ending soon, and stressed that “this procedure has nothing to do with the coronavirus crisis.”

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