Israeli Arms Exports Spiked by 15 Percent in 2020, State Data Shows

Rise mostly due to ammunition and armaments sales, but increase in exports to Europe also registered ■ Gulf states bought $800 million worth of Israeli defense technologies

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Drone manufactured by Israel's Elbit Systems
Drone manufactured by Israel's Elbit Systems. Some 8 percent of arms exports in 2020 were in drones in UAVs.Credit: Elbit Systems

Israeli defense exports spiked by about 15 percent in 2020, rising from $7.299 billion in 2019 to $8.3 billion last year, data published by the Defense Ministry on Tuesday shows. According to the report, the largest hike was in ammunition and armaments sales, which amounted to 16 percent of the total deals signed, a rise of 13 percent from 2019.

Other than armaments and ammunition, the most popular items in 2020 according to the data published by the ministry's SIBAT directorate were radar and electronic warfare systems (16 percent of sales), manned aircraft and avionics (13 percent), observation and optronics (13 percent), missiles, rockets and air-defense systems (10 percent), weapon stations and launchers (8 percent), communication, intelligence and cyber systems (8 percent), drone systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (6 percent), intelligence, information and cyber systems (5 percent), vehicles and armored personnel carriers (3 percent), services and other (2 percent).

Countries in Asia and the Pacific continued to be the primary market for Israeli defense technologies, accounting for 44 percent of total exports. These included the Persian Gulf states, which purchased about $800 million in Israeli arms. Israeli officials see a great potential for growth in the Gulf arms market, which is hindered by legislation limiting the sale of advanced military technologies. As such, the Defense Ministry is interested in developing a custom version of the Iron Dome air-defense system specifically for export to the Gulf states.

The data also shows an increase in exports to Europe, which rose from 26 percent of total sales in 2019 to 30 percent in 2020. According to the Defense Ministry, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increased demand in Europe for border monitoring systems that would track the movements of citizens and refugees, particularly in areas where no fence was in place. The remaining exports were to North America (20 percent), Africa (4 percent) and Latin America (2 percent).

Elbit Systems artillery, 2016

The head of SIBAT, Brig. Gen. (Res.), Yair Kulas said the increase in exports, coming at the height of a pandemic, was a significant achievement for Israel. "It is attributed first and foremost to the excellence of Israel’s defense industries and to their expertise – a result of their intimate understanding of military needs through the IDF," he said. "SIBAT will continue to do what is necessary to support Israeli industries, as well as to deepen and expand Israel’s cooperation with our partners around the world.”

According to the Defense Ministry, 70-80 percent of Israel's defense production is slated for export. In 2020, government-to-government sales rose from $580 million to $911 million, an increase that Israeli officials explained was due to foreign governments' interest to keep the deals classified, reduce intermediary costs and shorten the bidding and acquisition process.

Israeli defense export has been the subject of international scrutiny for years. Two years ago, an Amnesty International report severely rebuked Israel's export policy for allowing Israeli companies to continue to sell arms to countries under international censure for human-rights violations. The report showed that Israeli arms were used by at least eight countries whose armies carried out war crimes.

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