Israeli Governments Approved Every Single Arms Deal Brought to Them Since 2007

In response to a freedom of information request, the state says that this year was another record for weapons exports, with authorities clearing 14 deals in excess of 200 million shekels ($58.8 million) each

Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron
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Launching of a Barak-8 missile.
Launching of a Barak-8 missile.Credit: Israel Aerospace Industries
Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron

Government documents show that the Israeli government accepted every single one of the defense deals brought to it for approval since the Defense Export Controls Law went into effect in 2007, figures in a freedom of information request submitted by attorney Eitay Mack show.

The figures also shed light on the dramatic increase in defense exports over the past two years – more than half of the 41 deals ever accepted were granted approval in 2021 (eight) and 2022 (14 to date).

Arms exports are supervised by the Defense Ministry’s Defense Export Controls Agency, with the great majority never coming up for cabinet approval. However, the law states that all government-to-government deals valued in excess of 200 million shekels ($58.8 million) require the consent of the subcommittee of the ministerial committee for national security.

These deals often include offset agreements, as happened with a 2012 deal valued at 1 billion shekels ($294.7 million) between the Israeli and Italian governments. Israel Aerospace Industries provided Italy with a satellite, two airborne early warning planes and a control system. In return, Italy supplied Israel with 30 M-346 training aircraft.

The 14 deals that were approved this year increase the chances that total Israeli arms exports will reach a new record in 2022. In April, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Sibat unit reported that arms exports from 2021 jumped 30 percent, with the defense industry signing contracts totaling $11.3 billion, $1 billion of which were with Arab countries.

In an interview with Haaretz following the release of its third-quarter financial report, IAI CEO Boaz Levy spoke about “a very good time for IAI… We are increasing sales from quarter to quarter, and they stand right now at $3.6 billion for the first nine months – in other words, we’re getting very close to annual sales of $5 billion. This is an outstanding achievement.”

Attempting to explain the logic behind G2G deals, Sibat says that “foreign governments often prefer to do defense deals with the State of Israel, rather than directly with the manufacturer. In cases like these, a ‘government-to-government’ deal is undertaken under which the Defense Ministry, through Sibat, acts as the conduit connecting the foreign government with the exporter.”

However, Mack contends that this isn’t always the case: In many such deals even when the Defense Ministry is being used as a conduit, these transactions involve local intermediaries. In Myanmar, for example, it was recently revealed that a company involved in crime and corruption and whose CEO was arrested in Thailand for alleged drug trafficking and money laundering served as the intermediary and the “sole representative” of three Israeli defense exporters in the country.

“Why do Israeli companies have to pay commissions when the government of Israel is doing the marketing and negotiations for them with the Myanmar government?” Mack asked in a letter he recently sent to the legal adviser.

Mack said Myanmar isn’t the only country in which third-party brokers succeed in finding their way inside government-to-government transactions. The same thing also happened with Vietnam, Cameroon, Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

The fact that these figures were only released because of a freedom of information request again shows how problematic the mechanisms for supervising Israeli defense exports are, especially when they are managed out of the public’s sight and are not subject to legislative monitoring – only to a ministerial subcommittee of the foreign affairs and defense committee.

In the United States, for example, the Arms Export Control Act requires the government to officially report to Congress 30 days in advance on any planned defense equipment sale in excess of $14 million or on any defense articles or services valued worth $50 million. The time frame shrinks to 15 days for countries that belong to NATO or allies of the U.S. like Israel.

The official notification to Congress comes only after unofficial notifications have been sent that give lawmakers time to discuss the deals. Both houses of Congress can block a sale, as happened in 2019 when the Senate and House blocked the sale of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia. However, President Donald Trump vetoed the decision, and the deal went through.

In Israel, by comparison, exports are conducted in secret.

“The figures that have been revealed here are a reminder that supervision of Israeli defense exports is not only the fruit of decisions made by the Defense Ministry but are done with the full approval and knowledge of the governments of Israel,” said Mack.

“The fact that Israeli governments have never refused a Defense Ministry request to approve a large deal should arouse concerns and reinforces the need for public oversight of defense exports and their destinations,” he said.

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