Elbit Systems is one of Israel’s largest defense contractors, something like Lockheed, General Dynamics and Boeing rolled into one. It has its tentacles in virtually every high-tech weapons system developed by and for the IDF. Like its American counterparts, it also has an extensive overseas customer base to whom it exports those weapons it’s developed for the IDF.
The Times of London has just broken a massive story detailing a secret lobbying campaign that brought Elbit a large share of a $1-billion helicopter contract awarded by the House of Commons. The campaign was orchestrated by Lt. Gen. Richard Applegate, former chief of army procurement. The details are so jaw-dropping, I’ll quote extensively from the article:
He boasted how he had pulled off a coup in a covert political lobbying campaign which had secured 500m for the benefit of his Israeli arms company client.
Applegate…admitted he had applied pressure by “infecting the system at every level” using politicians and former colleagues still serving in the forces.
…He…confided that he had persuaded MPs to ask questions in the Commons and arranged for the chairman of the defence select committee to raise the issue with the defense secretary in a move to shame the government into releasing the funds.
Applegate was pushing for an increase in MoD spending on helicopter safety systems, believing it would benefit Elbit Systems, the Israeli arms company he chairs in the UK.
The MoD earmarked 500m in June after months of lobbying by Applegate. He said he expected a substantial portion of the cash to trickle down to Elbit through the military supply chain.
Boasting about his success…he said: “There was no programme, there was no money and we had been sidelined. There is now a programme, there is now money and we have the ability to win and grow.”
He confided that he used Westminster Connection, a discreet lobbying firm with Israeli links as a “firebreak” to ensure “that my fingerprints weren’t over any of it.” It could gain access to anyone “from the prime minister down.” He said the firm, based in Victoria and co-owned by Scott Hamilton, a former Conservative staffer, had used links with Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) to persuade MPs in the Commons to assist in his campaign.
The lobbying firm mentioned is co-owned by two leading Conservative staffers, one of whom, Stuart Polak, has been the director of CFI since 1989. The Jewish Chronicle lists him as one of the top 100 most influential Jews in the UK. He has led more than 50 such missions to Israel as the two mentioned in the passage above. So we can see that these junkets not only bring political benefit to Israel and its UK agenda, but they also can bring huge financial and trade benefits as well.
The Times expose notes that two well-connected MPs carried water for the project, asking pointed questions on the floor and in committee. These members of parliament were sent to Israel by CFI on two separate junkets during which they visited the Elbit headquarters and were briefed on its UK projects.
I hate to say it but Applegate’s full court press makes Aipac look like pikers by comparison:
The former procurement chief claimed his lobbying campaigns operate “at every level,” so by the time he had inspired a minister to ask his advisers about an issue they [the adviser] had been prepped to give the right answer. “I like the minister to be asking the questions [of] the person down here who’s his expert. The expert knows about it, is comfortable with it and you know in terms of, if he doesn’t like it, you make sure he’s no longer the expert…and you position someone else in there to give a different story.”
The entire campaign is one of breathtaking cynicism, but also breathtaking ambition and precision. You have to hand it to Applegate and Elbit. They show you how a master lobbyist does his job. In fact, when he retires Applegate should write a book about it. It would be bound to become the lobbyists’ bible.
Unfortunately, the Times story doesn’t outline Applegate’s direct financial stake in the Elbit deal. Given that it involved $1-billion and a substantial portion would eventually flow to the Israeli arms dealer, one has to assume that the former general would himself earn a substantial fee. How much we don’t know.
In case anyone wonders whether such a system of legalized graft works in Israel, it certainly does. Every retired general joins an Israeli arms or security consulting company. Ehud Barak managed to become a millionaire several times over after he became a private citizen. Even Meir Dagan joined two such U.S. based companies on his retirement.
Unlike the other UK generals caught in the Times sting, Applegate is the only one who hasn’t lost his job. That’s because he was the only one working for an Israeli firm. The others made the mistake of working for UK defense contractors who have to consider the appearance of matters described in the expose. Elbit has no such compunctions. You’ll never hear about the wheeling and dealing it engages in around the world because such shenanigans are accepted and even embraced in the security Wild West that Israel has become.
A well-placed Israeli source informs me that Elbit has threatened every major Israeli media outlet with lawsuits if it associates its name with this story. As a result, only Maariv, which is essentially bankrupt, did so. Walla in its reporting even lied claiming the Times hadn’t named the Israeli company, which appeared to absolve Walla of the need to do so itself. This by the way is the very same Walla whose security correspondent, Yossi Melman, has accused me of lying in my reporting. This of course was payback for my critical blog posts about his fantasy books touting the exploits of the Mossad.
This is yet another shameful example of an Israeli media industry cowed into submission by powerful national security interests inside Israel. Keep in mind this isn’t the IDF censor or even a gag order from the courts. This is sheer naked legal intimidation of the sort Sheldon Adelson used to extract an abject apology from Channel 10 over a profile it aired about him that was less than flattering. For God’s sake, if no one (except Maariv) can speak truth to power at least we can. It’s the least we can do on behalf of a vision of an Israel that isn’t corrupt, isn’t run by oligarchs and political fixers, and isn’t a banana republic.
Thanks to Asa Winstanley for research and other assistance in putting this post together.