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Israeli Weapons Maker Violates Sanctions, Exports Missile Technology that Ends Up in China, Possibly Iran

meir shalit

Meir Shalit, soon-to-be ex-director of the ministry of defense’s export control branch

I bet you thought sanctions against Iran were almost ironclad.  I bet you thought it could never manage to procure advanced western arms, let alone secret missile technology from a western power.  It would unthinkable all of this could happen thanks to an Israeli military contractor…right?  Wrong.

Writing in Israel Defense News, Amir Rappoport reveals that the Israeli defense contractor Ricor exported:

…A miniature cooling system by Ricor Cryogenic & Vacuum Systems, used for miniaturized electro-optical equipment and even for missile mechanisms…

U.S. intelligence discovered that the item was sold to a French company which, in turn, sold it to the Chinese who, in turn, may’ve given  or sold it to the Iranians.  Now, it could sit inside Iranian missiles.  There is, of course, the remote possibility that the Israelis did this deliberately in order to sabotage the Iranian weapons system.  You’ll recall that the Mossad had tasked Ben Zygier with doing such work inside an Italian company and that a similar set-up caused the sabotage of Iran’s uranium centrifuges at Natanz.  But this is highly unlikely, given that the ministry of defense official in charge of approving such export licenses has been summoned to Washington for a major dressing down, after which he’s expected to submit his resignation: a form of security ritual hara-kiri.

The story is somewhat reminiscent of the case of Uzi Arad, former Mossad officer and Netanyahu national security director until he too breached U.S. intelligence secrets and was summoned for a dressing down and eventual professional hara-kiri.

There are so many embarrassing aspects to the Ricor story.  But let’s not forget one of the most–not only has the west imposed sanctions on Iran, it has done so at the insistence of Israel.  The fact that Israel’s own defense ministry would approve the export of such an advanced piece of military hardware and that it could end up in the hands of Iran is maddening.  It makes a mockery of the entire sanctions regime.  The next time you read a headline like this, you can thank Israel’s arms industry for possibly facilitating the upgrade of Iran’s missile fleet.

Ricor is an Israeli company which has a U.S. subsidiary.  Which brings up an interesting question: when you have such cross-breeding of military technology and each country interested in what the other knows and produces, how do the U.S. and Israel maintain the secrecy of their respective products?  How do they decide what may be shared and what protected from the scrutiny of the other?

Returning to the incident in question: of one thing you may be sure though–had it not been the Americans who exposed this incident, Israel would’ve swept it under the rug.  The official implicated would’ve received his next promotion on schedule and his pension would be intact.  Only when a powerful outside party is involved is there any accountability for the Israeli security apparatus.

There have been other instances in which Israel has agreed to sell its own advanced military weaponry to China.  In one case, the U.S., whose own technology was part of the Israeli munition, protested so loudly the contract to sell Falcon surveillance aircraft was cancelled.  In another case, Israel agreed to upgrade UAVs it had sold to China years before.  Likely, the updated surveillance vehicles would’ve allowed the Chinese to improve their monitoring of the U.S. military in the Far East.

Israeli defense contractors are keenly interested in the Chinese market since its military is one of the fastest expanding in the world.  Israel’s thirst to export weapons to China also puts it in thrall of Chinese government interests.  This may be one of the reasons you don’t hear Israel complaining about China’s opposition to Iran sanctions and a military attack against that country.  None of this is particularly good news for the U.S., which finds China its most dangerous potential adversary in that region.



{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Pip December 24, 2013, 6:53 AM

    ” …the item was sold to a French company which, in turn, sold it to the Chinese who, in turn, may’ve given or sold it to the Iranians. ”

    How has Israel violated sanctions by selling technology to France?

    • Richard Silverstein December 24, 2013, 7:06 PM

      @ Pip: Are you claiming that the U.S. should have no grounds for complaint against Shalit & that Israel washed its hands of the technology once it left Israel’s shores? Because if that’s what you ARE claiming, that’s not at all the premise on which Washington invited Shalit to fall on his sword. The premise the U.S. is observing is that Shalit & Israel are responsible for the fact that this got into Chinese & perhaps Iranian hands.

      Your perspective is incredibly convenient for someone seeking to wash his hands of a problem he created. But fortunately the U.S. has enough leverage not to allow you or Israel to get away with s(^t like that.

  • Oui December 24, 2013, 1:31 PM

    You wrote a second article about Uzi Arad a day later. I added a comment with a WikiLeaks reference to the NPT discussion and the Middle East.

    The leak, published by several media organizations last July, asserted that the United States and Israel had reached substantive understandings in secret talks on the civilian nuclear issue. Washington was furious and demanded an investigation into the source of the leak. Netanyahu complied, and the culprit eventually proved to be Arad.

    The secret talks took place in June 2010, shortly after Obama infuriated Israel by backing a resolution on a nuclear-free Middle East at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. A month later, reports on the secret talks appeared simultaneously in Haaretz, on Channel 2 television and on Army Radio. According to these reports, the United States had given Israel unequivocal guarantees that its “strategic capabilities” in the nuclear field would be preserved and strengthened.
    [Source Haaretz]

    h/t Shaun Appleby @BooMan on Nov. 11, 2012

  • Oui December 24, 2013, 9:27 PM

    And in 2005, two senior Defense Ministry officials – director general Amos Yaron and chief of security Yehiel Horev – were forced out due to Washington’s anger over Israel’s agreement to upgrade Harpy drones for China, following a year in which the Pentagon boycotted Yaron entirely.

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