03/01/2021, 14.30
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US irked by Israeli weapons to China

The latest scandal, which has been ignored so far, has led to the arrest of 20 arms dealers and go-betweens. The sale of “suicide drones” to China is in the crosshairs. Israel's secret police moved in to stop sales too “hot” for relations with Washington.


Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Israel's secret police have arrested at least 20 Israeli arms dealers and go-betweens over several months, in what is now shaping up to be one of the biggest arms-industry scandals in the country’s history. 

A gag-order is in place and Israeli newspapers have reported only a few scant aspects of the case; for example, the countries involved in the affair remain unnamed.

Nevertheless, enough has come out thanks to independent media. One fact is the sale of suicide drones, a powerful weapon capable of hitting selected targets, to China.

According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the volume of business related to the illegal arms and ammunition trade is worth tens of millions of dollars.

In recent decades, Israel has reportedly sold weapons to about 130 countries but it is almost impossible to have a list of them. Apart from its reports to the United Nations Register of Conventional Weapons, there is no official information on the matter.

Israel itself refuses to release documents, with several laws and regulations that allow the government to avoid transparency. It is equally obvious that companies have a vested interest in keeping their customers’ names confidential.

In the past, Israel's weapons have been used conflicts and repression in Argentina, Serbia and Uganda. More recently, they have crossed the borders into South Sudan, Myanmar, Morocco and Saudi Arabia; some of the buyers are accused of war crimes.

“There have been numerous similar problematic sales to China in the past, many of which have angered the US,” said Richard Silverstein, a Middle East Eye contributor. “Israel plays a dangerous game of both cultivating trade with China while trying to maintain the close relationship with the US,” he added. 

For Antony Loewenstein, the latest is just one example of Israel's scandals. ”Israel has a largely unregulated defence industry, allowing the Israeli government and its private companies to sell weapons, surveillance equipment and hi-tech to some of the most despotic regimes in the world from Uganda to the Philippines,” he explained. 

Despite the lack of regulations in Israeli military industry, this time Israel's secret police (ISA) carried out an investigation and stopped the arms-dealing ring, indicating that the diplomatic cost of the deal in terms of the relationship with Washington would be too heavy to bear, especially after the election to the White House of Democrat Joe Biden, much less inclined than his predecessor Donald Trump to turn a blind eye to Israel's actions.

The “suicide drones” sold to China are manufactured by two Israeli companies: Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Aeronautics Ltd.

These drones, which can fly for hours before being directed towards the target and explode, are a modern and technological version of suicide bombers. They allow operators to maintain control over a territory or terrorise a population afraid of a possible attack from the sky without warning.

This kind of weapon was extensively used in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“The Israeli military export law from 2007 does not include human rights-related monitoring, consideration and restrictions because it was not legislated with that in mind,” said researcher Sahar Vardi. “It was legislated for one reason only: to allow the state, and its foreign affairs interests, to restrict sales in situations in which it is not in Israel's political interest.”

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