Israel’s arms industry & its links with the UK

Israel has a large and technologically advanced arms industry of its own, and is one of the world’s leading arms exporters.

Last updated 18 May 2021

Israel’s military sector is made up of over 200 public and private companies. It is dominated by Elbit Systems and three state-owned companies: Israel Aircraft Industries, Israel Military Industries and Rafael.

The UK spends millions of pounds each year on “battle-tested” arms from Israeli companies. One growing link is in the area of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. In 2016, Israeli company Elbit, in conjunction with Thales UK, completed delivery of 54 Watchkeeper WK450 UAVs as part of an £800 million contract. The Watchkeeper is based on Elbit’s Hermes drone, which has been exported to 11 countries, according to SIPRI. More details of UK purchases of arms and security equipment from Israel can be found here.

Israeli arms companies

A number of Israel’s leading arms companies are listed below.

  1. Elbit Systems, is Israel’s largest arms producer, whcih is traded on both the Israeli stock exachange and the US NASDAQ. Elbit was ranked by SIPRI as the 28th largest arms company worldwide (excluding China) in 2018. Its portfolio includes systems for military aircraft and helicopters, drones, armed remote control boats, land vehicles and for command and control. Elbit describes its drones as the backbone of Israel’s drone fleet and they were extensively used by the Israeli military in the 2014 attack on Gaza. Elbit has four subsidiaries in the UK: Instro Precision, Elite KL, Ferranti Technologies, and UAV Engines; and two joint ventures: UAV Technologies (with Thales UK), and Affinity (with KBR).
  2. Israel Aerospace Industries is owned by the Israeli government. It was ranked as the 39th largest arms company worldwide (excluding China) in 2018. Its website states that over the past 60 years it has “delivered, supplied and supported advanced systems for the Israeli Ministry of Defense as well as many demanding customers worldwide” IAI produces a wide range of weaponry including a large number of drones. It claims that its MALAT Divisions “are global leaders in comprehensive UAS-based solutions – offering the widest range of combat-proven systems”.
  3. Rafael manufactures advanced defense systems for the Israeli Defense Forces and the defense establishment, as well as for foreign customers around the world. Its products include Remote-Controlled Weapon Stations, communication systems, surveillance and targeting systems, and many types of missiles. Rafael was ranked as the 44th largest arms company worldwide (excluding China) in 2018.
  4. IMI Systems, formerly Israel Military Industries, was formerly a state-owned company, but was privatized and sold to Elbit Systems in November 2018. It produces guns (including the Uzi submachine gun), artillery, armoured vehicles, bombs, and missiles.
  5. Plasan Sasa, which is owned by a kibbutz in northern Israel, produces armour plating for vehicles.
  6. RADA Electronic Industries is a NASDAQ-listed company producing radars, navigation systems, and other military electronics.

DSEI arms fair

Israeli arms companies, including all of the above except IMI Systems, are regular exhibitors at the DSEI arms fair. In 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019, Israel had a National Pavillion at DSEI. These pavillions group together companies from the same country, and are a key feature of the arms fair. The Israeli pavillions are hosted by SIBAT, the body within the Israeli Ministry of Defence that promotes arms exports.

Israel’s arms exports

Israel is one of the world’s leading arms exporters. Very little official information is available on Israeli arms exports, but annual figures for arms export orders are provided by the Ministry of Defence. Israel’s arms export orders were worth $7.2 billion in 2019. According to the MOD figures, 41% of Israeli defense exports in 2019 were to Asia and the Pacific, 26% to Europe, 25% to North America, and 4% to Latin America and Africa. The total was lower than the $9.2 billion recorded in 2017, boosted by a $2 billion order from India, who are by far Israel’s biggest arms customer, for the Barak-2 missile system, and slightly down on the $7.5 billion recorded in 2018.

One area of Israeli arms sales that has increased is in the area of surveillance technology, which has been used by numerous repressive regimes to spy on political dissidents and journalists.

Israel’s arms export customers include Myanmar, where they have dealt with leading military figures associated with the genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya population. Recent sales to Myanmar include naval patrol boats fitted with Elbit remote weapons stations, which continued to be delivered as the Myanmar armed forces were being accused of war crimes. According to an expert from Amnesty International, Israel may be continuing to supply surveillance technology to the Myanmar regime in 2021. Israel also sells considerable quantities of small arms and light weapons (SALW) to many African countries, and Israeli weapons, brokers, and trainers, have shown up in several African conflict zones.

A detailed database of Israeli military and security exports was launched in 2021 by the American Friends Service Committee.

Elbit stand at Farnborough 2014

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