French, U.K. Defense Firms Bolt Tel Aviv Arms Expo

Limitations on certain weapons exports to Israel, put in place during 2014 Gaza war, cause some defense firms to withdraw from this week’s International Defense and Security Expo in Tel Aviv.

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Some French and British defense firms have withdrawn from this week’s International Defense and Security Expo in Tel Aviv after failing to get approval from their countries’ defense ministries to export particularly sensitive equipment to Israel, a source told TheMarker.

After some equipment from Western suppliers was put off limits to Israel during last summer’s war with Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip, Israel decided to rely more on Israeli-produced technology, the source said.

This is no boycott of Israel, said the source, who is associated with ISDEF, as the defense fair is known, but there are a lot of Western countries that over the years are preventing the export of offensive equipment to Israel. The situation affects companies from France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria, the source added. The equipment that failed to get export approval includes sharpshooting weaponry, drone aircraft, ammunition including purportedly non-lethal ammunition such as sponge-coated bullets, and other special ammunition for guns and rifles.

As a result of these import limitations, Israeli army and police forces rely on American and Israeli suppliers for these particular items, the source explained. On the other hand, foreign military suppliers offering other types of equipment are in fact participating in the Tel Aviv defense expo, the source said.

After the Israel Defense Forces encountered difficulties obtaining additional stocks of ammunition from some Western suppliers, including from the United States, during last summer’s war in Gaza, Israeli official decided to rely on Israeli-produced technology, the source said, adding that smaller Israeli producers were given special product development projects to avoid reliance on imported military equipment.

Erez Bavli, a consultant at the Tel Aviv exposition, said, “The special units of the police and the army prefer to buy American rather than European products because they are afraid that the Europeans won’t receive export licenses. It’s not a matter of quality and price but rather assurance regarding supply.”

Bavli noted that the participants at the Tel Aviv fair include government ministers, army chiefs of staff and ambassadors from various countries, some of whom have expressed amazement that no senior Israeli government officials have been attending the expo. Although the fair was privately organized, there are large numbers of Israeli companies and official delegations from around the world attending.

Yesterday, the first day of the fair, which runs through Thursday, ISDEF attracted 4,000 visitors in addition to 250 presenters from 20 countries, 80 official foreign delegations and 12,000 professionals, organizers said. There are high-level delegations here for the event from a number of countries, including Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Lithuania and Poland.

When it comes to Israel’s own exports of military equipment, according to figures released by the Defense Ministry, export deals worth $5.66 billion were signed with Israeli defense companies in 2014. The 2013 total had been $6.5 billion, itself a $1 billion drop from 2012 figures. According to the ministry, the 12.9% drop stemmed from a reduction in defense budgets and acquisition programs in the United States and Europe. In some of these countries, local politicians also demand that purchases be made by local firms, which also affects the level of trade with Israeli companies.

“Export figures reflect the difficulties that even the leading exporters of defense systems have to contend with ... , including the global budgetary crisis – especially in developed nations – alongside increasing competition over each contract in existing markets,” the Defense Ministry said.

With reporting by Gili Cohen.