Israel Aircraft Industries, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of advanced aviation weaponry including many of its most advanced drones, has taken some big hits lately. Their UAVs have been intentionally crashed by their pilots and fallen from the skies mysteriously in a series of accidents caused, according to my Israeli source, by repeated security hacks from Hezbollah and its Iranian ally.
Though the IDF is quick to reassure the Israeli public that these were failures which were nothing out of the ordinary and caused by “technical glitches,” IAI’s reputation has taken a hit in the public’s perception. In fact, the same source mentioned above has learned that IAI commmissioned a secret, internal poll of Israeli perceptions of its drone products. The results were so disappointing the company determined to mount a PR campaign to burnish its tarnished image.
Weapons systems are designed, budgeted and funded much differently in Israel than in the U.S. So IAI doesn’t have to worry very much about the average Israeli turning on their products. But IAI does rely on cabinet ministers and MKs to approve the IDF budget. If support lags in these circles for its products, the IDF will not order them. So that calls for pulling out all the stops. Further, foreign governments are also lucrative customers for Israeli drones and when they hear about the drone hacks they’ll think about looking elsewhere. So, to paraphrase the old beer commercial goes: “this promo’s for you.”
That explains this drone “fly-by” over Tel Aviv’s gleaming office towers by the queen of the drone fleet, the Heron, in this Mako report (Hebrew). To further buttress the drones anti-terror capabilities, the video shows keffiyeh-clad “terrorists” with RPGs preparing a mock-terror attack (I kid you not):
The video demonstrates the technological advancement of the drone as it homes in on a target. It presents video footage the drone produced as it flew over Tel Aviv…which displays the high quality of the aerial photography…
“IAI is known as an international pioneer in the field of unmanned aviation,” said CEO Yossi Weiss. “With a cumulative record of forty years of experience and fifty clients throughout the world, I am proud to announce our record of one-million hours of operational flight time.”
The Heron has been intensively used by NATO forces in Afghanistan [ed., where a German drone was recently hacked and crashed] and other regions of conflict. “We will persevere in developing and upgrading the Heron.”
This story features an announcement of the participation of IAI drones at a conference yesterday in Rishon LeZion.
The IAI video promo reminds my Israeli source of this wacky Bollywood-style promotional video produced by another Israeli arms maker, Rafael. Here is how Noah Shactman described it:
Let’s say you’re a defense-company marketing executive. And you want to make a splash at the Indian defense ministry’s annual air show. Do you: (a) buy expensive gifts for New Delhi’s generals; (b) treat the press to Kingfishers and samosas; (c) produce a Bollywood-esque video featuring bare-midriff girls, flower-draped missiles, and the catch phrase “dinga dinga dee?” Unfortunately for us, Israeli arms-maker Rafael chose C. Which means we may have just found the most atrocious defense video of all time…
Shachtman didn’t note that both Rafael and IAI had been accused by the Indian government of bribing procurement officials and barred from participation in the Indian weapons market for some time. This is a major black mark because, as of 2009, Israel was the second largest arms supplier to the Indian market.
In a sense, both of these videos were attempts to tamp down PR disasters. In the case of the drone video the disaster is technical; in the case of the Rafael video the disaster is political and ethical.
Neither arms maker ever faced any consequences inside Israel for their bribery schemes. It falls within the realm of Israel’s outright refusal to police its arms suppliers. The general view is that exporters are the engines of the Israeli economy and as such are societal benefactors who should be given broad leeway. As Haaretz recently pointed out, Israel is ranked by Transparency International 34th of 37 countries in its enforcement of anti-corruption laws. There have been no (zero) prosecutions of any Israeli company for bribery. Those who should be doing the policing have offered everything from inadequate personnel to ‘we’d rather ask companies to comply than prosecute them,’ as explanations for their abysmal record.
My past reporting on Israeli drone failures proves that the problems with Israel’s arms industry aren’t just ethical, but technical as well. Because it is viewed as an export engine of the economy; and because security related issues are given the greatest deference, Israelis do not hear about such failures. Which only harms Israeli society overall. Instead of honesty and transparency, there are only lies and coverups.