Countries involved in civil wars and severe human rights violations are among the roughly 100 states sending delegations to ISDEF, the Israel Defense Exhibition, to be held June 6-8 at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
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In recent days social activists have distributed a partial list of these countries, including the Central African Republic, which is on the brink of a civil war, Congo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Myanmar. The Central African Republic and Congo are even under an arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council, which restricts the transfer of combat equipment to them. Other countries sending representatives to the exhibition had the arms embargo or other sanctions against them lifted only in recent years.
A sales brochure prepared by the conference organizers notes that participants in the exhibition, which will display weapons produced by government and private industries, will also include delegations from China, Senegal, Ghana, Turkey, India, the United States, France and Germany. Some of the countries, such as Indonesia, for example, have no official diplomatic relations with Israel.
The activists of the Hamushim anti-militarism campaign, who are opposed to the Israeli arms industry, will hold an alternative conference parallel to the conference, which they say is designed to present the true cost of the arms trade. Scheduled to speak at that conference are MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz and attorney Itay Mack, who are trying to increase transparency regarding Israel’s security and defense exports.
ISDEF is a private company that has been organizing weapons exhibitions of various kinds over the past decade. The company is the conference and events arm of a larger business group that also has companies in the fields of cyber technology, arms marketing and more.
The previous conference organized by ISDEF also made headlines, after a delegation from war-torn, atrocity-riddled South Sudan visited the exhibition. The organizers decided to increase security for the delegation’s members, headed by South Sudan’s transportation minister. The latest reports don’t include information about the presence of a representative from South Sudan, but it’s possible that official participants from the country will take part.
Figures published by the Israeli Defense Ministry about a month and a half ago show that Israeli arms exports totaled $6.5 billion in 2016. Most of the defense and security exports are sent to Asia, particularly to India, which is showing an increasing interest in Israeli technological innovations. This year saw an increase in defense exports to Europe and African countries. Sales of weapons and technological devices to European countries totaled almost $1.8 billion, and African countries purchased weapons for a total of $275 million that year.
Organizers of the ISDEF conference stated: “During the three days of the exhibition we expect 15,000 visitors, including 4,000 office-holders from abroad who will come in order to arrange defense and business cooperation with blue-and-white companies, to be exposed to the Israeli defense industry and to learn from it, as well as [being exposed] to the most advanced innovations in the fields of defense and security existing in the world market today.”
Congo has known plenty of violence and in recent months the clashes between the police and tribal militias have been escalating; hundreds of people have been killed and some 200,000 have been forced from their homes.
The UN is claiming that in Myanmar there are mass killings and gang rapes being carried out against the country’s Muslim minority, and that these are akin to crimes against humanity. The UN report published this year bring testimonies about the murder of children and babies, the torching of entire villages and numerous, systematic rapes. It should be noted that in 2016, then-U.S. President Barack Obama lifted America sanctions on Myanmar.
The UN Security Council is still maintaining an arms embargo against the Central African Republic, a country that has suffered a civil war and violence is still erupting in the form of clashes between Christians and Muslims that have killed hundreds of people.
The Ivory Coast has also been undergoing civil war in recent years and has suffered a series of political crises. In May of last year the UN Security Council arms embargo was lifted, but clashes are still erupting from time to time and earlier this year soldiers seized control of the country’s second-largest city, broke into police stations and stole weapons.
Last year a UN Security Council experts report said that an Israeli firm had transferred night vision devices to the Ivory Coast in violation of the international sanctions against it.