“Today Israel offers an entire political model for asymmetric warfare, a conflict between a state and irregular combatants. This model has both lethal and “soft” elements. Israel exports Rafael missiles used for assassinations in Gaza, IAI drones, General Aviv Kochavi’s combat methods and separation walls by Magal, but also legal experts, experts on population administration in the vein of Israel’s civil administration over the West Bank, and even war ethics.”
Yotam Feldman’s film “The Lab” illustrates the darkest sides of the military industry in Israel. The director’s main argument is that the occupied territories are being used by the military industry as a laboratory for weapons and new military technologies that are tested on a civilian population, both on a continuous basis as well as during military operations. Feldman shows how the economic value of products that have been tested in real time on human beings raises their market value, along with the reputation of Israeli companies competing in the global marketplace. Because most military goods are earmarked for export, it is important for the military industry to maintain its “advantage” over other countries by having their weapons tested on the field of battle.
This is how the lab works
Embarking on military operation — use of new combat technologies — conclusion of the operation — aggressive marketing of the new products — sharp rise in sales and the companies’ stocks.
The military operations that Israel initiates about once every year comprise an extremely profitable window of opportunity for the military industry to bring new products to market and sell them to the world. The laboratory effect pertains to the means of continuous control over the West Bank, the maintenance of the siege of Gaza, the control of the Palestinian population within Israel and of course, the last military operation in Gaza: Protective Edge.
Gaza as a test case
After Hamas came to power in 2006, and since Israel began its siege of the Gaza Strip, Gaza’s residents have been under constant aerial surveillance by Israeli drones circling overhead and collecting information by taking aerial photographs, which are then decoded by IDF surveillance personnel headquartered far from the Strip itself. Some of the drones carry ammunition, and using the Seeing-Striking technology, surveillance personnel are also able to carry out assassinations remotely. One of the reasons that Israel is now the biggest producer of drones in the world has to do with the IDF’s wide-scale, daily use of these technologies in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, most of the surveillance methods being used by the IDF at the moment were developed according to a blueprint set by the army through Israeli technology companies who created a unique field of expertise with a high export potential for the local hi-tech industry.
Throughout the weeks of fighting during Operation Protective Edge, the media covered a number of new products that were being put into operational use for the first time. Media reports included the list of primary beneficiaries from the fighting, the expected foreign sales figures for the new products following the operation, and even the states who were already standing in line to buy them.
The most reported-on product is the Iron Dome system of Rafael Ltd and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. For a number of years, Rafael has been getting grants totalling almost $ 1 billion of US aid money to fund the project, and in the third of week of Operation Protective Edge, a US Senate Subcommittee approved a budget of $ 351 million for 2015 for the Iron Dome project.
Israel Aerospace Industries, the company that exports the radar for the system, also got a grant during the fighting when it issued bonds in the Tel Aviv stock exchange and raised almost ILS 500 million at an attractive interest rate. Before the fighting began, the thinking was that it is not possible to export the system, but since Operation Protective Edge, the global media published reports on states that may be interested in buying it, like South Korea, India and Taiwan.
Iron Dome was joined by other new and experimental products that came to market during Operation Protective Edge and will probably soon be sold in the global market through arms exhibitions put on by the military industry. A few examples:
- Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900 drone, which is able to carry up to 300 kilos and fly even in severe weather conditions. According to estimates, the current war accelerated its becoming operational.
- The Hatzav tank shells manufactured by Israel Military Industries Ltd, which can penetrate concrete and explode inside a structure.
- A tiny surveillance device made by Controp, which is installed on unmanned drones and can identify whether a person is carrying a weapon from above.
- Tiny vehicles that collect intelligence in the tunnels in the Gaza Strip.
- Observations balloons that can stay in the air for days. The observation balloons work in coordination with the surveillance device which provides electricity and communications.
- MPR-500 bombs, which are dropped from airplanes and considered to be especially precise.
The war’s profits are preferable
The military industry’s enormous profits, especially during and after military operations, raise concerns about the price that would have to be paid for a long-term ceasefire. Some claim that the military industry might be badly hurt if the occupation ends or if there is a long-term ceasefire. Economist Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Center even makes the claim that Hamas offered a long-term ceasefire knowing that Israel would refuse because of its economic dependency on war profits. One former marketer for the military industry once said an interview to TheMarker newspaper: “Take for example the Plasan company in Kibbutz Sasa, who made a lot of money selling armored vehicles to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the last years they reduced their activity and fired workers because those forces withdrew from those areas. A situation where there is no major confrontation for 20 years will hurt the military industry, certainly if there is a drop in the number of conflicts in the world.”
In the last few years, we are witnessing major attacks on Gaza about once a year. The data show that since 2006, there has been a continuous rise in military exports. In 2002, it was $ 2 billion, in 2006 it jumped to $ 3.4 billion, and in 2012 it reached $ 6 billion. In 2013, the three largest companies in the field — Elbit, Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael– reported increased sales: the first sold at a rate of $ 3 billion a year, the second at a rate of $ 2.65 billion a year, and the third at a rate of $ 2 billion a year. Rafael’s sales experienced the sharpest increase compared to the others: 15%.
Throughout the weeks of fighting, senior military industry figures were publicly emphasizing the economic profit in times of war:
“When Israelis market super-advanced systems, something that looks futuristic, lots of armies in the world are saying to themselves: why would I need this, what are the chances that this scenario might happen? When things happen on the ground that illustrate the need, it helps marketing efforts.” (Yiki Burns, Advisor and Head of the Security Field in Frost and Sullivan, on Iron Dome).
“However, theoretically, Elbit Systems could profit from projects like the one that was in the headlines in the last few days on the topic of dealing with the tunnels in Gaza, with sensors and different methods that will deal with the existing tunnels there.” (Excellence Research Division)
“After every operation of the kind taking place in Gaza right now, we are seeing a big jump in the number of foreign customers.” (Eli Gold, CEO of Concern)
“We’re already doing aggressive marketing work abroad, but the IDF’s actions definitely impact the marketing activity […] for the military industries, this confrontation is like drinking an especially strong energy drink– it just gives them a big push forward.” (Barbara Opall-Rome, writer for “Defense News”)
“The battlefield is like a kosher certificate for everything that has to do with international markets. What has been proven in battle sells a lot better. Immediately after an operation, and maybe even during it, all types of delegations land from countries that value Israel’s technological capabilities and are interested in testing the new products.” (Barbara Opall-Rome, writer for “Defense News”)
In September of this year, less than a month after the end of the attack on Gaza, an exhibition of unmanned vehicles will take place in Airport City near the Ben Gurion Airport. One of the panels in the conference that will accompany the exhibition is called “The IDF Combat Laboratory as a National Infrastructure in the Development of Advanced Unmanned Approaches to the Modern Battlefield.” Like all weapons exhibitions, this one will host distinguished foreign visitors, representatives of armies and private companies to conduct purchases of Israeli technologies that have been proven successful in Operation Protective Edge.