Yossi Melman, an eternal scourge of Israeli military censorship, has published yet another harsh critique of the IDF censor and its chilling effect on the Israeli media. He begins by noting that before Israeli Navy’s Commando Force 13 intercepted and commandeered the Karina A, a ship carrying Iranian arms intended for the Palestinians, it rehearsed for the operation in two foreign nations. The only one publicly reported was the United States, where the Israeli navy has maintained a close relationship over several decades. Israeli censorship has prohibited reporting the name of the second country. One presumes that it was named in the course of the rest of Melman’s article, though not in connection with the Karine A operation.
Melman notes that the IDF censor prohibited him from reporting that an Indian military delegation visited Israel in 2011. The ostensible reason given was to protect Israel’s security interests. The real reason was that numerous Israeli weapons makers had been charged with paying bribes to Indian senior officials, up to and including the defense minister. The Indian delegation was investigating the bribery and corruption charges, which ended up securing a ten-year ban on arms sales to Indian for several of the companies. This is yet another example of how the Israeli military abuses the censorship regime in order to protect it, and its industrial partners from embarrassment and exposure. Only days after the censor did the bidding of the military brass, its senior officials admitted they’d made a mistake. By then, the story was far less newsworthy and the damage to press freedom was already done.
Another example of the stifling impact of censorship regards relations with the nation of Singapore, which has a 15% Muslim minority. The IDF and Israeli weapons industry have enjoyed especially close relations with the Asian nation since its independence fifty years ago. Israel helped build its military almost from scratch and thousands of IDF and intelligence veterans have advised the Singaporean military over many decades. Yet hardly a word of this has appeared in the Israeli media. Presumably because it was sensitive to Singaporean sensibilities and Israeli authorities feared undue comment on the relationship might harm the goose that laid a golden egg for so many Israeli generals and ex-generals.
In order to describe the full extent of the impact of censorship, the Israeli security reporter declares that no other democratic nation in the world censors news of its arms deals with foreign nations. The reason for this, he wryly notes, is that there is no other democratic nation in which the military is a state within the state, permitting it to make its own rules and enjoy total impunity. Only in Israel does the military have virtually no civilian oversight.
The defense ministry has a tiny office which oversees military exports and engages in almost no investigations of arms deals with foreign states. Why would it, given the size and importance of such sales to the overall economy? It sees its role as promoting Israeli military trade rather than regulating it. Transparency International ranks Israel extremely low in terms of its oversight of the arms trade.
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Melman notes that Israel’s arms exports amount to $6-billion and that this is between 6-8% of the country’s entire GDP. It is ranked tenth in the world in the size of its military export trade, having fallen from sixth a few years ago. Per capita, its arms exports are the highest of any nation in the world according to Israeli economist, Shir Hever. Close to 100,000 Israeli households earn their livelihood from this economic engine.
To support such a powerhouse, Israel has conducted arms trade not only with well-known nations like the U.S. and western Europe. It has also provided huge amounts of armaments to dictators, corrupt regimes and countries engaged in genocide and ethnic cleansing. Among them, Melman names Azerbaijan, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burma, Milosevic-era Serbia, apartheid-era South Africa, and a number of Central American regimes like the Somoza-era Nicaragua and El Salvador. Historically, Israel has negotiated the neat trick of selling arms to both the Shah of Iran and the succeeding Iranian Islamist regime.
Israel’s military collaboration with Egypt is widely reported. But it’s little known that the IDF’s Unit 8200 provides SIGINT intelligence on intercepted communications from the Islamist terrorists who are the bane of the Egyptian security forces. Israeli drones have even attacked Islamist positions within the Sinai. There will even be joint air maneuvers with Israeli, Egyptian, Cypriot and Greek air forces in the near future.
In this way, Israel has become both the facilitator and the handmaiden of Egypt’s military junta. Israel could care less how this may be perceived by the average Egyptian. It only cares about pleasing, and keeping in power, the dictators and generals. For their part, Egypt’s military brass look the other way at Israeli war crimes in 1956 and 1967 which involved the massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war in cold blood. When reporting on such crimes happens in Israel itself, the censor steps in and buries these media stories to protect the sensibilities of the Egyptians who might be reminded of how brutal Israel can be when you’re not in its good graces. Out of embarrassment and in order to prevent the world from knowing about its misdeeds, such arms trade and military operations have been barely reported by the Israeli media (though covered extensively here).
Israel has also conducted an expanded arms and security trade with a number of Gulf countries, among them Abu Dhabi. The chief beneficiary of this is the Israeli security titan Mati Kochavi, who I’ve written about here. Israeli planes shuttle to the Gulf and UAE planes land regularly in Israel ferrying military-intelligence-security gear which his company, Aeronautics Defense Systems, supplies to the Gulf emirs to strengthen their grip on their citizens. Israeli technicians and consultants flood the small Gulf state, installing the CCTV cameras and computer data-mining equipment which further embeds the surveillance state and enables it to tighten its claws upon the populace. This amounts an $800-million deal lining Kochavi’s pocket. In order to offer the emir plausible deniability, Kochavi registers his companies outside Israel (while all the business itself is conducted within Israel). This legal fiction permits everyone to maintain a convenient charade that UAE does not trade directly with Israel. Once again, Israelis may not know much of this in order not to harm the security of the state. More likely, the reason is so as not to disrupt the gravy train UAE offers to the IDF, its contractors and the overall Israeli economy.
Calvin Coolidge once said that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America.” For Israel, that statement reads: “What’s good for the army is good for Israel.” There may and should come a point at which this statement is no longer true. Only then will we know that Israel is no longer a garrison state and no longer a national security regime.
Recently the Israeli media reported that the drone manufacturer, Aeronautics, sent a delegation to Azerbaijan to demonstrate a new model in the field. To its surprise, the Azeri military demanded that the Israeli operators actually mount a drone attack on an Armenian military position. When the professionals refused to agree to this unprecedented request, the company officials negotiating the sale attempted to mount the attack themselves. Luckily, the ensuing attack caused nothing worse than light injuries to two Armenian soldiers. But the notion that Israeli civilians were participating in Azerbaijan’s war against Armenia managed to get the attention of a few defense ministry officials. After press reports revealed this mess, the defense ministry belatedly denied the company a license to export this particular model.
Military officials in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are investigating charges that the chassis for their military vehicles sold to Israel have ended up in the frame for mobile cannons which Israeli sold to Azerbaijan. The arms manufacturer, Elbit, responded to Melman that all of its sales are approved by the defense ministry and according to its regulations. Which means, if true, that the worst habits of Israeli arms dealers are facilitated by those tasked with regulating them.
Further evidence of Israeli suppression of its culpability for war crimes abroad can be seen in the recent, secret Supreme Court decision to deny an appeal by an activist group seeking to bar Israeli arms sales to the Burmese junta. Apparently, it’s permissible for Israel to facilitate genocide just as long as those being exterminated are Muslim. The Court itself slapped a gag order on reporting this news and it still hasn’t been published in Israel. But after an Israeli protest provided video footage of one of the activists revealing the decision, I published the news here.
In fact, Melman offers this blog a back-handed compliment when he writes:
The Supreme Court proves the absurdity of its behavior when it decrees gag orders in the age of social and digital media. The Court’s decision was published in the Tikun Olam blog of Richard Silverstein, whose hostility toward Israel and its government he doesn’t even bother to conceal [sic]. However, there are times when it is good to have such people like him because they offer a glimpse into the shadows which the security apparatus, with the backing of the censor and the courts, does not want us to see.
As for the slap he offers, Melman is beset with the same affliction that many other liberal Israels suffer from: they know they are a dissident minority in their own country. So they must prove their patriotism in order to retain some credibility in the eyes of the Israeli populace. They do this by attacking the outsider, the one whose loyalty is easily dismissed. It’s shameful. But one understands why they feel they must do it, despite how tedious the enterprise is.
Returning to the Israeli High Court, it is depressing that it was once known for upholding human rights and democratic values and has now become a rubber stamp for secrecy and the garrison state.
Melman adds that Israel appears to be selling Chinese-manufactured drones to the Burmese generals. In this way, China can say it’s observing the international arms sanctions against Burma while profiting handsomely along with its Israeli partners-in-genocide. After several visits by Bibi Netanyahu to China, it appears bilateral trade, both illicit and above-board, has burgeoned with the Asian nation.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.