It was October 2012. Roei Elkabetz, a brigadier general for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was explaining his country’s border policing strategies. In his PowerPoint presentation, a photo of the enclosure wall that isolates the Gaza Strip from Israel clicked onscreen. “We have learned lots from Gaza,” he told the audience. “It’s a great laboratory”.
Elkabetz was speaking at a border technology conference and fair surrounded by a dazzling display of technology — the components of his boundary- building lab. There were surveillance balloons with high-powered cameras floating over a desert-camouflaged armored vehicles on display by many corporate innovators. There were seismic sensor systems used to detect the movement of people and other wonders of the modern border-policing world .
Swimming in a sea of border security, the brigadier general was, however, not surrounded by the Mediterranean but by a parched West Texas landscape. He was in El Paso, a 10-minute walk from the wall that separates the United States from Mexico. And he was briefing a mixture of U.S. Border Patrol agents, Homeland Security executives, and industry representatives about how Israel patrols its borders. The way Elkabetz commanded the audience, it was clear that Israel was front and center to a growing global homeland security/border nexus, the exact topic I was looking into with great depth as a journalist.
Over the past 15 years or so I have been looking at the massive, historic expansion of the U.S. border enforcement apparatus in the post 9/11 period. I have covered the multi-billion dollar budgets that U.S. Homeland Security commands, and how it has translated to an apparatus of control of barriers and technology and armed agents .
The Israeli influence in this build-up is undeniable. In 2014, Customs and Border Protection awarded a contract, with a potential worth of one billion dollars, to the Israeli company Elbit Systems to construct 52 surveillance towers, with accompanying command and control centers, in Southern Arizona. When Elbit was vying for the contract they advertised themselves in the spirit of Elkabetz: “Field proven C2 Architecture. 10 plus years securing the world’s most challenging borders.” This is but one example, but now the most prominent, of the transfer of technologies tested in the Palestinian occupied territories to the U.S. Mexico borderlands .
Todd Miller, Author based in Tucson, Arizona, and focuses on the world’s growing border enforcement regimes.