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Israeli Arms Exports

Owing to the high priority given the defense sector, Israel possesses the prerequisite of an advanced industrial base able to keep abreast of technological innovation. The military industries possess the skilled manpower necessary for undertaking major arms development projects. Israel is regarded as one of only six developing countries with across-the-board capabilities, meaning the ability to produce each of the four chief types of weapons systems: aircraft, small naval vessels, armored fighting vehicles and missiles.

Israel has the most sophisticated arms industry among the LDCs. Despite its highly sophisticated conflict environment, the Israel Military Industries (IMI) is able to meet nearly all its defense needs, by type if not by quantity, except in the area of tank engines and aircraft. Further, its extensive arms production industry was able to generate over a billion dollars annually in export sales in the 1980s, second only to Brazil in the Third World. Israel designed and built an innovative tank, the Merkava (Chariot) Mk-1, which has a laser range finder and ballistic computer. Israel also makes its own armored wheeled vehicles, an array of howitzers, and missiles-includingair-to-air, surface-to-surface, and antiship missiles. It produces the Kfir jetfighter and developed a new generation of aircraft, the Lavi; it also made a STOL (short takeoff and landing) vehicle, and a utility helicopter. Israel's remotely piloted vehicle (the Scout) became an important part of its Lebanon Campaign.Israel also manufactures patrol boats and electronic and ECM (electroniccounter measure) equipment. Its Uzi submachine gun is world renowned, and its Galil assault rifle enjoys wide sales abroad.

Israel's deficiencies of size, industrial raw materials and economic trading power limit itsdevelopment into a major national defense manufacturer and exporter. Yet by the 1980s the Israelis had carved a modest niche for themselves in the international arms field by maximizing the few comparative advantages available to them, such as their cumulative battlefield experience with Western or indigenous defense systems against Soviet-supplied Arab armies. Israel ranks among the important second tier of arms producers and suppliers after the firsttier, which includes the United States, the Soviet Union and France. In the 1980s both the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) listed Israel as a top Third World defense exporter along with China and Brazil. Foreign security assistance by Israel during the 1980s was unofficially estimated at averaging close to $1 billion annually, roughly equivalent to one-quarter of total industrial export.

The country's status in the conventional arms trade is far from assured. The ambitious program of indigenous militarization centering on local research, design, production andexport of sophisticated weaponry threatened by two negative trends. At home, the price of this domestic arms-making process is becoming prohibitive. Arguably the overseas market could compensate by helping to recoup the initial startup costs of these defense projects. Except that Israel, like other aspiring Third Word arms merchants, is finding the conventional weapons trade increasingly competitive and challenging.

Israel's place in the global defense field is easily and often misrepresented. Contrary to thepopular impression fostered by the media, Israel's role in theinternational weapons trade is at best marginal. However, the domestic implications are of an entirely different magnitude. Here the role of military manufacture and export is a major factor. Jerusalem views defense production as a pillar of national security. Armament made in Israel figures in maintaining a high state of military preparedness, providing for emergency stockpiles this arms capability helped preserve Israel's slim quantitative edge against the Arab threat, making the strategy of deterrence credible by projecting a clear image of military prowess and defensive strength.

Israeli arms sales have enhanced this small country's influence, prestige and contacts abroad. Defense support hasgained diplomatic as well as commercial access to regions and countries outside the immediate Arab confrontation zone for a country like Israel whose foreign contacts are rather restricted, defense salescan provide an extra margin for independent diplomatic maneuver. It is impressive how much political mileage Israel has derived from the arms export drive, aside from other security and economic considerations.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:52:38 ZULU