Gaza war: Where does Israel get its weapons?

The US has supplied Israel's air force with F-35s, the most advanced fighter jets ever made
The US has supplied Israel's air force with F-35s, the most advanced fighter jets ever made

Western governments are coming under growing pressure to halt arms sales to Israel over how it is waging the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israel is a major weapons exporter, but its military has been heavily reliant on imported aircraft, guided bombs and missiles to conduct what experts have described as one of the most intense and destructive aerial campaigns in recent history.

Campaign groups and some politicians among Israel’s Western allies say arms exports should be suspended because, they say, Israel is failing to do enough to protect the lives of civilians and ensure enough humanitarian aid reaches them.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council backed a weapons ban, with 28 countries voting in favour, six against and 13 abstentions. The US and Germany – which account for the vast majority of Israel’s arms imports – both voted against. Germany said it did so because the resolution did not explicitly condemn Hamas.

The war was triggered by Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October, which killed about 1,200 people, mainly civilians, according Israeli tallies. More than 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza, 70% of them children and women, the Hamas-run health ministry says.

Israel insists that its forces are working to avoid civilian casualties, accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in the line of fire and has said there are no limits on aid deliveries.

United States

The US is by far the biggest supplier of arms to Israel, having helped it build one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), external, the US accounted for 69% of Israel’s imports of major conventional arms between 2019 and 2023.

The US provides Israel with $3.8bn (£3bn) in annual military aid under a 10-year agreement that is intended to allow its ally to maintain what it calls a “qualitative military edge” over neighbouring countries.

Chart showing main arms exporters to Israel

Israel has used the grants to finance orders of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a stealth aircraft considered the most advanced ever made. It has so far ordered 75 and taken delivery of more than 30 of the aircraft. It was the first country other than the US to receive an F-35 and the first to use one in combat.

Part of the aid – $500m annually – is set aside to fund missile defence programmes, including the jointly developed Iron Dome, Arrow and David’s Sling systems. Israel has relied on them during the war to defend itself against rocket, missile and drone attacks by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, as well as other Iran-backed armed groups based in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In the days after Hamas’s 7 October attack, President Joe Biden said the US was “surging additional military assistance” to Israel.

Since the start of the war, only two US military sales to Israel have been made public after receiving emergency approval – one for 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth $106m and the other for $147m of components to make 155mm artillery shells.

But US media report that President Joe Biden’s administration has also quietly made more than 100 military sales to Israel, most falling below the dollar amount that would require Congress to be formally notified. They are said to include thousands of precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, bunker busters and small arms, external.

An Israeli Iron Dome air defence battery fires an interceptor missile as rockets are fired from Gaza, in Sderot, Israel (10 May 2023)IMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,

Israel’s Iron Dome batteries help protect cities and towns from rocket and missile fire

However, SIPRI’s report says that despite the deliveries, the total volume of Israeli arms imports from the US in 2023 was almost the same as in 2022.

One deal that is large enough to require Congressional notification is the $18bn sale of up to 50 F-15 fighter jets, news about which emerged this week, external. Congress has not yet approved the deal.

Even though the aircraft would need to be built from scratch and would not be delivered immediately, the sale is expected to be hotly debated by Mr Biden’s Democratic Party, many of whose representatives in Congress and supporters are increasingly concerned by Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has said she is prepared to block the deal and has accused Israel of “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza.

Germany

Germany is the next biggest arms exporter to Israel, accounting for 30% of imports between 2019 and 2023, according to SIPRI.

In 2023, the European nation’s weapons sales to Israel were worth €326.5m ($351m; £280m), external – a 10-fold increase compared with 2022 – with the majority of those export licences granted after the 7 October attacks.

The German government said in January that the sales comprised €306.4m worth of military equipment and €20.1m of “war weapons”.

According to the DPA news agency, external, the latter included 3,000 portable anti-tank weapons and 500,000 rounds of ammunition for automatic or semi-automatic firearms. It also said that most of the export licences were granted for land vehicles and technology for the development, assembly, maintenance and repair of weapons.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to self-defence throughout the war and, although his tone on Israeli actions in Gaza has shifted in recent weeks and there has been some debate in Germany, the arms sales do not appear to be at risk of suspension.

A man reacts as Palestinians search for casualties a day after Israeli strikes on Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip (1 November 2023)IMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,

Israel rejects accusations that it is failing to do enough to protect civilians in Gaza and instead blames Hamas

Italy

Italy is the third-biggest arms exporter to Israel, but it accounted for only 0.9% of Israeli imports between 2019 and 2023. They have reportedly included helicopters and naval artillery.

Sales of “arms and munitions” amounted to €13.7m ($14.8m; £11.7m) last year, the magazine Altreconomia cited national statistics bureau ISTAT as saying, external.

Some €2.1m of exports were approved between October and December, external, despite the government’s assurances that it was blocking them under a law which bans weapons sales to countries that are waging war or are deemed to be violating human rights.

Defence Minister Guido Crosetto told parliament last month that Italy had honoured existing contracts after checking them on a case-by-case basis and ensuring “they did not concern materials that could be used against civilians”.

Other countries

The UK’s exports of military goods to Israel are “relatively small”, according to the UK government, amounting to only £42m ($53m) in 2022, external.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says that since 2008, the UK has granted arms export licences to Israel worth £574m ($727m) in total.

Much of those are for components used in US-made warplanes that end up in Israel. But the British government is coming under growing pressure to suspend even those exports.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the UK has a “very careful export licensing regime” and said Israel must “act in accordance with international humanitarian law”. The UK government is also preparing an assessment that will advise on the risk of Israel breaching international law in its actions from early 2024.

But a senior government source told the BBC that an arms embargo on Israel was “not going to happen”.

The government of Canada, whose arms sales to Israel were worth 21.3m Canadian dollars ($15.7m; £12.4m) in 2022, said in January that it had suspended approving new exit permits for weapons until it could ensure they were being used in accordance with Canadian law. However, pre-existing permits remained valid.

Israeli defence industry

An Elbit Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) built by Elbit Systems, at Israel's Palmachim Air Force Base (5 July 2023)IMAGE SOURCE,AFP
Image caption,

Israel’s Elbit Systems developed the Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) being used in Gaza

Israel has also built up its own defence industry with US help and now ranks as the ninth-largest arms exporter in the world, with a focus on advanced technological products rather than large-scale hardware.

It held a 2.3% share of global sales between 2019 and 2023, according to SIPRI, with India (37%), the Philippines (12%) and the US (8.7%) the three main recipients. The sales were worth $12.5bn (£9.9bn) in 2022, external, according to the Israeli defence ministry.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made up 25% of those exports, followed by missiles, rockets and air defence systems (19%) and radar and electronic warfare systems (13%), the ministry said.

In September, just before the war began, Germany agreed a $3.5bn deal with Israel to buy the sophisticated Arrow 3 missile defence system, which intercepts long-range ballistic missiles. The deal – Israel’s largest-ever – had to be approved by the US because it jointly developed the system.

US military stockpile in Israel

An Israeli soldier checks artillery shells at an area along the border with Gaza, in southern Israel (9 October 2023)IMAGE SOURCE,EPA
Image caption,

The US has reportedly allowed Israel to draw artillery shells from its reserve stockpile there

Israel is also home to a vast US arms depot set up in 1984 to pre-position supplies for its troops in case of a regional conflict, as well as to give Israel quick access to weapons in emergencies.

The Pentagon shipped about 300,000 155mm artillery shells from the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel to Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

Stockpiled munitions at the depot have also reportedly been supplied to Israel since the start of the Gaza war.

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Categories: Israel, Shame on You
Anton Nieuwenhuizen

Written by:Anton Nieuwenhuizen All posts by the author

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