— presented as part of the 8 Days Campaign in December 2016.

Who actually oversees the trade in Israeli arms?

Israel is ranked sixth in the world in arms and defense exports, and first in defense exports relative to GDP. The reason such a small country can compete with the economic powerhouses of the USA, Spain, Japan, Britain, or Russia for producing and selling military equipment is related to the experience the Israeli army and Israeli military industries have gained over years of everyday management and control over the civilian populations of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in addition to wars with neighboring countries. Although the military industries produce tremendous profits for the State of Israel, there is no transparent or disciplined system of oversight for defense exports. Lacking oversight on the production of arms, fighting tools, technologies, or military training, these may end up in countries under embargo, or in unwanted hands.

Information about the final destination of defense exports, as well as the identities of those involved in the exporting, marketing, and brokering, are hidden from the public. Nor does Israel report honestly to the UN mechanism in charge of overseeing the global arms trade, and Israel is not signatory to any international conventions on the subject.

In 2007 the Defense Export Controls Act became Israeli law, with the aim of regulating exports of Israeli arms and stopping them from ending up in the wrong hands. Responsible for the law’s implementation are the Director General of the Ministry of Defense or the Deputy Director heading the Defense Export Control Agency (DECA). The functions and powers of DECA include registering exporters in the defense export registry, issuing marketing and export licenses, providing exporters with guidance, and enforcing the law. DECA often intervenes in deals which may harm Israeli interests with strategic partners (such as the United States), but not when arms may end up in the hands of human rights violators.

The problems with the Controls Act have featured in the State Comptroller’s report for several years in a row now. The Comptroller’s central arguments are that the Ministry of Defense does not demand said reports from exporters and most of DECA’s enforcement activity takes place only in response to information received from various parties regarding violations of the law, rather than on an ongoing basis as stipulated by the Controls Act. Additionally, DECA gave the Customs Office only partial information from the approved export licenses, in such a way that the Customs Office cannot optimally fulfil its duties. DECA and the Customs Office also lack the professional manpower with relevant technical knowledge to check the content of shipments and match them with the production documents. There are only three workers charged with enforcing the law for 6,800 exporters and some 1,000 companies listed in the defense exports registry, and some 400,000 marketing and export licenses. The three workers are also responsible for enforcing the law on any Israeli individuals or companies operating without a license.

This faulty conduct in export oversight is the price the citizens of Israel pay for what is done in their names. Democratic governance is severely harmed as well, when the Ministry of Defense allows citizens and companies to export deadly weapons with no oversight.