Dronegate brewing in the Middle East: “Israel is playing a dangerous game”

Israeli security services have arrested at least 20 local arms dealers and middlemen in a matter of months, in what is now becoming one of the largest scandals in the Jewish state’s defence industry. This was reported the day before, on 1 March, in a publication on the website of Asia News (the official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions)

Israeli authorities maintain a high level of secrecy surrounding the case but some details have been leaked to the media. At the centre of the growing scandal is the sale of Israeli kamikaze drones to China, which has provoked an angry response from the United States.

According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth (Latest News), the volume of arms deals “related to the illegal trade in arms and ammunition” is in the tens of millions of dollars. It is reported that Israel has sold military products to about 130 countries in recent decades, but it is almost impossible to compile a complete list of the arms transfers. With the exception of annual reports to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, there is no official information on the matter. Israel itself refuses to publish the relevant documents, citing several local laws and government regulations that allow the authorities to avoid transparency on the issue. It is equally clear that Israeli companies have a vested interest in keeping the names of their clients confidential, Asia News notes.

Israeli weapons have been used in conflicts in South America, Serbia and Uganda in the past. Relatively recently, they have been seen in South Sudan, Myanmar, Morocco and even Saudi Arabia, with which the Jewish state still has no formal diplomatic relations. Some of the recipients of Israeli defence products have been accused of committing war crimes, such as the same Riyadh that has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen since 2015 that have killed civilians in the poorest Arab country.

“There have been many similar problematic sales to China in the past, many of which have infuriated the US”, –  says expert Richard Silverstein of the London-headquartered Middle East Eye news and analysis portal. – “Israel is playing a dangerous game, simultaneously developing trade with China and trying to maintain close relations with the US.”

For another analyst, Anthony Lowenstein, what happened is just one example of the Israeli “arms scandals”.

“Israel has a largely unregulated defence industry that allows the country’s government and private companies to sell arms, surveillance equipment and high technology to some of the most oppressive regimes in the world, from Uganda to the Philippines,” he said.
Despite the lack of clear rules in the Israeli military industry, this time Israel’s General Security Service (Shin Bet) investigated and stopped the supply of drones to China, pointing out that the political cost of the deal in terms of relations with the US would be too high. As Israeli experts add, such costs seem all the more unjustified given the arrival in the White House of Joe Biden, who is “far less inclined than his predecessor Donald Trump to turn a blind eye to Israeli actions”.

The kamikaze drones sold to China are manufactured by two Israeli companies, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Aeronautics Ltd. The drones, which can stay in the sky for hours before being aimed and detonating, are a technological version of “suicide bombers”, Asia News noted.

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