Israel Nearly Doubled Exports of Surveillance Systems to Track Civilians, Refugees

Yaniv Kubovich
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Elbit Systems Ltd.conducts cyber security training.
Elbit Systems Ltd.conducts cyber security training. Credit: Elbit Systems Ltd.
Yaniv Kubovich

Israel's Defense Ministry increased its exports in 2019 of civilian and refugee monitoring technology, a report published by the ministry Monday said. 

The figures show that Israel’s export of intelligence and cyber systems, as well as its communications monitoring systems, constituted 14 percent of total Israeli exports in 2019, compared to 8 percent in 2018.

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According to the Defense Ministry, the number of deals Israel sealed with foreign countries rose, but their worth decreased. Contracts worth $7.2 billion were signed in 2019, compared to $7.5 billion in 2018 and $9.2 billion in 2017.

Last year, in contrast to previous years, Israel didn’t strike a single deal worth over $1 billion, while much more lucrative deals had been signed, including with India and South Korea, in the past.

Haaretz Infographic.Credit: Haaretz

Ministry officials said that 2019 was a “challenging” year due to the drop in oil prices, which adversely affected acquisitions by some countries. The report also stated that Israel sold military command and control systems that had been converted for civilian purposes.

It also shows a decline in exports of security systems to Asian and Pacific countries, which constituted 41 percent of the total in 2019, compared to 46 percent in 2018. However, an increase in sales to North America – 25 percent in 2019, compared to 20 percent in 2018.

Twenty six percent of all exports went to Europe, four percent to Latin America and two percent to Africa. The export of missiles and aerial defense systems, which made up a quarter of all exports in 2018, dropped to 15 percent of all exports in 2019. The sale of unmanned aerial vehicles and drones dropped from 15 percent to seven percent last year, with radar and electronic warfare systems dropping from 17 percent to 14 percent of the total.

In May, it was reported that the Defense Ministry was seeking to expand security exports to additional countries, including systems for tracking civilians in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis. 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 had to do with various countries’ public security needs. Defense sources estimated that exports for internal security needs would 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.

Bidding companies were 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.

The call was intended to include all countries around the world other than ones defined as enemy states. The ministry seems to have marked Asian countries as a main target for expansion of defense-related exports. Other than Iran, Lebanon and Syria, no other country was noted as constituting any problems in terms of the way equipment from Israel would be used.

The firms bidding on the project were also required to provide information that would be used by Israel’s defense industries in promoting exports.

The project called for information on all countries but the ones that Israel designates as enemy states, and it appeared that the Defense Ministry is targeting Asian states as a principal expansion channel for Israeli exports. Apart from excluding Iran, Lebanon and Syria, with which Israeli law forbids trade, the request for proposals made no reference to other countries that could be problematic in terms of trading in defense equipment or how that equipment may be used.

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