Israeli-made Night-vision Gear Reached Ivory Coast Despite Embargo

UN report says Israeli firm among those violating arms embargo; both the company and Defense Ministry say they are following law, but defense source calls deal 'legal, but problematic.'

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Forces loyal to Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara prepare to advance on the capital Abidjan April 1, 2011.
Forces loyal to Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara prepare to advance on the capital Abidjan April 1, 2011.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The final experts' report to the UN Security Council on Ivory Coast points to violations of the UN arms embargo on the West African nation, including by an Israeli company.

According to the report, released on March 17, since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1572 in 2004 establishing the embargo, “violations of the arms embargo have involved small arms, heavy weapons and related ammunition,” as well as the importing of night-vision equipment in 2015.

The latter was brought in via an Israeli company — Troya Tech Defense. In one instance, the shipment was made from Israel, while in another the company acted as the agent. The report says this violated the sanctions regime.

Israeli defense officials say the company did not violate Israeli laws governing military exports, but an Israeli defense source said the activity "was legal, but problematic."

Troya Tech Defense says it complies with Israeli law and Defense Ministry directives and never broke the law. The Defense Ministry says it found no violation of the law on supervising defense exports.

The report focuses on Ivory Coast, including the country’s arms stockpiles. Ivory Coast underwent a series of political crises including violence in 2010-11, when then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede an election to Alassane Ouattara, who succeeded him. This led to intervention by the French army.

Supporters of opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara of RDR (Rally of Republicans) attend his election campaign rally in Abidjan, Ivory Coast November 26, 2010Credit: Reuters

The report notes that weapons “with similar characteristics to Iranian production” were found, including rocket-propelled-grenade launchers and ammunition, as well as thousands of Chinese-made assault rifles.

The experts monitored ports of entry to Ivory Coast and investigated shipments in order to identify violations of the arms embargo. During a routine inspection at the airport in Abidjan, the country’s largest city, a shipment of 60 night-vision goggles was found.

A second shipment, of five forward-looking infrared thermal imaging devices that were shipped directly from Israel to Ivory Coast, was found in January 2015. A document from Troya Tech Defense states that the shipment was made in December 2014 and the cost was $52,500.

Under the subheading “Implementation of the arms embargo,” the report details the importing of the Israeli firm’s night-vision goggles and thermal imaging devices.

Soldiers patrol in Abidjan on April 9, 2011.Credit: Reuters

It says that both "shipments entered Cote d’Ivoire in violation of the sanctions regime. The night-vision goggles are currently in use by various units of the military and security forces and the thermal imaging devices by the military.”

The authors note, however, that according to defense officials, these products are not considered military products and therefore were not under the Defense Ministry's supervision. These transfers make it possible to monitor in detail the activity of arms traders.

An Ivorian company approached the Israeli company with a request for night-vision equipment. The Israeli company’s application for an export license from the Defense Ministry “was denied because its night-vision goggles are considered combat equipment by the Israeli authorities and as such would need prior approval from the Security Council” due to the arms embargo on Ivory Coast, the report says.

The company then approached a different company, one based in Singapore, and together they located similar night-vision goggles in the United States that were considered civilian products. The Israeli defense source confirmed that the Israeli company in effect had acted as a broker in supplying the goggles to Ivory Coast.

According to the Israeli law regulating defense exports, the Defense Ministry is supposed to supervise brokered export deals, but in practice it does not — despite an announcement by the ministry that it would start overseeing such transactions in 2014.

The defense source said the regulations were awaiting the approval of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Haaretz reported at the end of 2014 that the regulations were awaiting the committee’s approval.

Security forces drive toward Grand Bassam in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on March 13, 2016. Credit: Reuters

As a result of the report, the UN Security Council asked Israel for clarifications. The Defense Ministry found that the company had not violated the law on defense exports.

Regarding the goggle shipment, the defense source said the company had brokered the transaction and proved that the product was not under the Defense Ministry’s supervision. The thermal imaging devices of the second shipment were not considered a military product requiring supervision.

The UN report notes that the experts "put several official requests to the company for information relating to the export, but has received no reply.”

“The Defense Ministry needs to find out how such a thing happened, as do the customs authorities, which allowed shipments to a country with an embargo,” says Eitay Mack, a lawyer who seeks greater transparency and oversight of Israeli defense exports.

“On the one hand, the report is a good thing, and it shows that shipments of matériel are being tracked down, but they aren’t preventing them. And we see that the arms aren’t perishable — and in a place like Ivory Coast, the weapons and ammunition go from one civil war to another.”

The report also details the transfer to Ivory Coast of night-vision equipment from a company in the United Arab Emirates, and of surplus army trucks from France via a French company.

Troya Tech Defense says it never broke the law.

“For this reason, and in contrast to what can be inferred from the report, our company did not supply any military equipment to the government of the Ivory Coast," it said in a statement. "Our company cooperated fully with the UN committee, answered all of its questions and did not conceal anything. We do not know what was at the base of the incorrect conclusions in the report.”

The Defense Ministry said that following a request by the UN Security Council, the ministry’s Defense Exports Control Agency had been in close contact with Troya regarding the claims.

“When the examination was completed, it was found that there was no violation of the law governing the oversight of defense exports,” the ministry said in a statement.

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