Thursday, 22 February 2024
WorldThe arms trade with Israel: an opaque market in which it is...

The arms trade with Israel: an opaque market in which it is not possible to obtain figures

How many weapons does Spain buy from Israel each year? It is impossible to know an exact figure, point out the analysts and experts consulted. National and European regulations require the volume of exports of war material to be disclosed. Imports, on the other hand, are covered by a cloak of opacity and the little data available is distorted: a good part of the operations with Israeli defense companies are carried out with subsidiaries in Spain and therefore do not appear in any foreign trade registry.

An example: last Friday it emerged that the Ministry of Defense had closed the purchase of Spike LR2 anti-tank missiles for 287.5 million. The winning bidder was a consortium of companies that will manufacture them in Spain, but a Spanish subsidiary of the Israeli Rafael, the original manufacturer of the system of these missiles, participates as main contractor and coordinator. This contract will never appear as an import of military material.

“It is impossible to have a reliable figure,” admits Alejandro Pozo, researcher at the Center Delàs and co-author of the report. Battle-tested businesses, about the Israeli military industry. “It is totally the opposite of a transparency policy.”

In other cases, material is manufactured in Spain without the participation of any Israeli subsidiary, but with a patent or components from a company in that country for which a large sum of money has been paid.

Israel, considered the tenth largest exporter in the world (and the first in military drones), does not contribute to transparency either. A 2019 Amnesty International report noted that the country shrouds its arms sales in secrecy: “without documentation of sales, it is impossible to know when [estas armas] were sold, by what company, how many and so on,” he indicated.


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The country has also not ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibits the sale of material that could be used in genocides and crimes against humanity. For this reason, its products have ended up in various conflicts in which international arms embargoes had even been decreed, such as in Myanmar, where the newspaper Haaretz revealed that Israeli companies sent material until 2022 despite the fact that the Government assured that it had paralyzed them in 2018.

What there is no doubt is that the difference between exports and imports with Spain is notable: Israel is a testimonial client of Spanish companies and, on the other hand, it is one of the largest sellers of weapons, components and military and surveillance technology to our country. .

Testimonial exports, hundreds of millions in imports

If the exports of the last decade (2012-2021) are analyzed, Spain sent war material to Israel for a value that does not even reach 20 million euros, a very small figure taking into account that Defense contracts are usually high. .




Imports, on the other hand, are much higher. The few years in which the Spanish Ministry of Defense has specified military spending in Israeli companies indicate that in any year Spanish exports exceed or even triple in imports in a decade.




In 2011, for example, at least 70 million euros worth of military material was imported from Israel, 3% of all spending on imports of products of this type. The following year there were at least 47.75 million. Between 2011 and 2021, elDiario.es has been able to determine that Spain purchased war material from Israel for at least 268 million euros. The real figure could be double or triple.

The number has been obtained from the annual reports The Defense industry in Spain, prepared by the Ministry of Defense and in which it indicates the 10 main importers of military material each year. The figure does not include imports from 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014 and 2013 because Israel does not appear in the Top 10 of importers, which does not mean that it did not sell material to Spain.

Beyond the lack of transparency surrounding exports—the decisions of the body that determines which Spanish weapons are sold are still protected by the official secrets law—arms trade control entities lament the difficulty of assessing to what extent Spain contributes to Israel’s military market.

“There is no legislation on imports because we do not understand that it is problematic,” says Pozo, “but in the case of Israel it is one of the few exceptions in which buying weapons from it is more controversial than selling it material that it does not even need.”

There are also some intangibles that go beyond the mere purchase of material. By manufacturing material with subsidiaries in Spain, Israel can access markets with which it does not have diplomatic relations, such as Saudi Arabia, explain the sources consulted. Another advantage is access to NATO standards, today’s largest military market, and European defense funds.

Spain, for its part, barely denies exports of material to Israel, despite repeated complaints of human rights violations in Palestine by various entities. Before 2015, no licenses had been denied. Since then, twelve have been denied, seven of them in the last half of 2022. The reason for the latter, however, was the risk that the material would be re-exported to the Philippines.

“There is too great a risk that any Spanish material will be used to commit or facilitate war crimes by Israel,” says Alberto Estevez, Amnesty International Spain spokesperson on arms trade. “Spain must suspend these operations immediately and promote a regional arms embargo on Israel.”

“Field-tested” material

Various experts and NGOs have warned about the danger of contributing to the Israeli arms industry, one of the most prestigious in the world because, among other things, it advertises that its products have been “tested in combat.” That is, in the Gaza Strip. An illustrative example: the prestige of a Defense fair is measured, among other factors, by the number of Israeli companies that participate in it.

Without going any further, the Spike missiles purchased by Spain last week are the same ones that have been used in Gaza since the Israeli offensive began after the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7. The current conflict also serves as a showcase and testing ground for new material that will later be marketed around the world, such as new “precision” mortars called Iron Sting.


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“The purchase of military material from Israel strengthens the country’s military and security model,” adds the Center Delàs report. “And it contributes to maintaining the occupation, which Israel makes economically viable with the sale of its “combat-tested” military products.” Buying material from Israel also helps to ensure that the products that remain in the Hebrew country have a lower unit cost.

The country also uses its influence in the global defense market to strengthen its diplomacy. The latest case occurred when the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, refused to describe the Hamas attack on October 7 as terrorism. Automatically, Israel suspended sales to the South American country of any defense and security materials, which the country uses to fight drug cartels and rebel groups.

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