On April 9th, Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez, who had planned to light a torch in Israel’s 70th independence ceremony next week, cancelled his appearance, citing a fear of protests in Israel against his inclusion. Indeed, there is a history of anti-Hernandez protests in Honduras and abroad. After reports of corruption in the balloting in the Honduran election in December (in which Hernandez won by a very slim margin) emerged, massive protests erupted. According to data from human rights groups quoted by The New York Times, at least 22 people were killed by security forces in the aftermath. So why was he supposed to light a torch in the first place? Beyond a host of reasons related to Netanyahu’s domestic political strategy, the strong and growing ties between the two right-wing governments is noteworthy. Only two weeks ago, Honduras purchased 200 million USD worth of Israeli drones[1]. So how does Israel’s arms trade effect and feed into its political and foreign policies?

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently published an updated report on international arms transfers, and Israel’s numbers continue to grow. While SIPRI only tracks the sales of leading companies in the arms industry, and there are many more sales, deals and trainings that are not represented in these figures, these figures do allow us a glance at trends in Israeli military export. Between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017, Israel increased its arms exports by 55 per cent, in percentage, the largest increase in the world. Looking at the overall sales, we can see the dramatic increase in sales in 2015 and 2016. We can also see very clearly two low points, in 2008 and 2014, both followed by significant increase in arms. Looking at this, many questions arise – what can explain the sudden decrease in arms sales one year, or a sharp increase another? What can we learn about local and international politics and relations by looking at these numbers?

While many international factors can be at play here, and the local contexts of different countries will affect the increase and decrease of Israeli export to those countries, there was not a single country that, if taken out of the equation, changed the overall picture around the main highs and lows of this picture. So what happened in 2008 and 2014 that lead to substantial decreases of sales in those years? What happened in the following years (2009 and 2015) that led to an increase?

The global economic crisis of 2008 could certainly be a contributor to the decrease in arms sales that year, but would not explain the increase the following year to a level higher than before the economic crisis. The other significant event in 2008 was of course Operation Case Lead, the 2008 attack on Gaza which received international criticism, and at least in some cases (as we will soon show) official statements of countries that they will decrease military ties with Israel as a result. In 2014 we can see the same trend in the decrease almost to the same low levels of 2008. But in both cases, the year after this military operation and international criticism of it, we see an increase of almost to 400 million USD in Israeli arms sales. Journalist Yotam Feldman spoke about this in regards to the 2008 attack on Gaza in his film “The Lab” showing how such military operations are used as a marketing opportunity for the Israeli arms industries. Or as Defense News writer Barbara Opall-Rome but it: “for the military industries, this confrontation is like drinking an especially strong energy drink– it just gives them a big push forward.[2]” The industry itself makes the same observation, as an executive in Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) sad in 2014: “after every operation of the kind we see today in Gaza, we see an increase in the number of foreign clients.[3]


The price of killing

Breaking down these increase and decreases by country, we can learn a lot about the regional geopolitics. As an example, when looking at the 5 biggest customers of Israeli arms in the past decade, one that stand out is Turkey. Israel’s relationship with Turkey is a notable one. In 2009, Turkey purchased around $320m of weapons from Israel and was its top client. Yet in the last two years, there have been no such deals[4]. The decline since 2009 can be linked to a strained relationship between the two countries. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish PM, was vocal in his opposition to Operation Cast Lead (2008) and even states this will harm the military relations between the countries[5].  In 2010 we can still find sales between the two countries, but by 2011, after the Israeli attack on the Mevi Marmara ship as part of a flotilla to Gaza, and the killing of 8 Turkish nationals and cutting Israeli-Turkish diplomatic relations[6], we can see another drop in sales, leading to none at all in recent years.


Profit from crisis

Israel has steadily provided a small number of weapons for Colombia over the past decade, yet in 2009-2011, with a peak in 2010, there was a significant increase. While 2009 could have been explained as in the global trend, as a reaction to the attack on Gaza in 2009, this does not fit with the trends we see here specifically. In 2009, Colombia doubled its arms import globally, an increase that continues in 2010, and only dropped back in 2011[7].

In April 2009, the Colombian armed forces launched Strategic Leap, an offensive in borders areas where the FARC’s forces still has a strong military presence, especially in Arauca, near the Venezuelan border[8]. By 2010 this grew into a diplomatic showdown with neighboring Venezuela and Israeli weapons exports to Colombia tripled from the year before[9].


Old markets, new markets

Israeli arms sales to Europe peaked in 2007, and have since been in a constant decline. Unlike the global trend when it comes to Israeli military export, in 2015 and 2016 we do not see a significant increase, and in 2017 we can see an extremely significant drop. One of the clear outcomes of this trend, is Israel’s constant need to find new markets.

While Turkey and Colombia have at times provided Israel a market, numerous other countries have proved particularly reliable and profitable. Specifically, Israel’s ties to India have strengthened significantly in recent years. While India has imported Israeli weapons consistently for some time, beginning in 2014 with the election of Indian PM Narendra Modi, Israeli exports to India have increased exponentially. From 2014 to 2015, exports doubled, and they again did so from 2015 to 2016. India is now far and away Israel’s top weapons client, and is now the top weapons imported in the world[10]. Because of its Hindu nationalist leadership, its “inability to build an efficient and robust indigenous defense manufacturing capability” and regional pressure from Pakistan and China, India has emerged as an ideal partner for Israel. Both Modi and Netanyahu have focused on this relationship; Modi recently made history by being the first Indian PM to visit Israel, and then soon after he hosted Netanyahu in New Delhi[11]. Like India, the Philippines and its right-wing government has prioritized strength and security. Though the numbers are low relative to India, they are nonetheless trending upwards. Transactions began in 2015, but grew by over five times from 2016 to 2017[12]. Like in India, Filipino leadership has emphasized the need for the modern technology that Israel specializes in.

Looking at this data as a whole, a two things emerge clearly: 1. Israel’s arms export, while decreasing at a time of a high-profile military operation, increases dramatically after such operations; 2. Israel’s market share is shifting to the East, and beyond seizing opportunities in local conflicts around the world, it is today based heavily on alliances of right-wing governments, governments that, much like Israel, will use these weapons against the people under their sovereignty.


Ryan Wentz is a graduate of University of Colorado, Boulder and is currently volunteering with the American Friends Service committee. Sahar Vardi is a Jerusalem based activist and program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee.

[1] Alberto Lopez, Honduras Baraja adquirir seis mini UAS Skylark 3 de Elbit, infodron.es, 28/3/2018

[2]  שוקי שדה, כיפת ברזל, מעיל רוח, MPR 500, הטיל הסודי – והאנשים שירוויחו מהם מיליארדים, 09.08.2014, דה מרקר

[3] שוקי שדה, כיפת ברזל, מעיל רוח, MPR 500, הטיל הסודי – והאנשים שירוויחו מהם מיליארדים, 09.08.2014, דה מרקר

[4] TIV of arms exports to Turkey, 2008-2017, SIPRI

[5] Julian Borger, Turkey confirms it barred Israel from military exercise because of Gaza war, The Guardian, 12/10/2009

[6] Raf Sanchez & Zia Weise, Israel and Turkey end six-year stand-off with deal on Gaza flotilla killings, The Telegraph, 27/6/2016

[7] TIV of arms exports to Colombia, 2008-2012, SIPRI

[8] “Operation ‘Strategic Leap’ to marginalize FARC: VP – Colombia news”. Colombia Reports. April 1, 2009. Retrieved October 18, 2011.

[9] TIV of arms exports to Colombia, 2008-2012, SIPRI

[10] TIV of arms exports to India, 2013-2017, SIPRI

[11] Shrenik Rao, Can India Really Play ‘Best Friends’ to Israel, Palestine and Iran at the Same Time?, Haaretz, 15/1/2018

[12] TIV of arms exports to Philippines, 2013-2017, SIPRI