Israel gets a kick(back) out of conflict

Israel’s image as “an isolated, besieged country” is good for its weapons and homeland security exports.

Brazil, the fifth largest importer of Israeli arms between 2005 and 2010, gets automated turrets, drones and perimeter defence systems that control its favelas "without putting Brazilian soldiers at risk" [GALLO/GETTY]

2012 did not turn out to be Israel’s finest year, diplomatically: from being called out for its war-mongering against Iran to its defeat (however symbolic) at the United Nations General Assembly’s vote on Palestine’s bid for statehood. But that didn’t stop its homeland security industry from coming out ahead in the global market. 

As Shimon Peres put it during the International Homeland Security Conference held in Tel Aviv on the eve of Israel’s November attack on the Gaza Strip, “When it comes to science there are no borders.” 

Peres was speaking at an event intended to showcase Israel’s latest homeland security wares to the world, so “science” was his shrewd euphemism for security and surveillance technology – the kind of technology that not only helps to break down political borders but personal ones, too. 

Israel is in the process of developing its national biometric database, which political economist Shir Hever described to me as, “One of the harshest biometric surveillance systems in the world”, and civil liberties groups have described as creating dangerous infringements on individual privacy. 

No serious competitor 

As Peres intimated in his speech, in spite of the noted trend away from support for Israel in diplomatic halls, most countries continue to flock to the Jewish state for the latest in surveillance technology. 

“No other country has emerged as a serious competitor to Israel’s homeland security trade,” Hever argues. 

Indeed, Hever goes further, asserting that, with the exception of Turkey, Israel’s unpopular status has actually bolstered its homeland security industry: “In fact, Israel’s image as an isolated, besieged country is good for its weapons and homeland security exports. Israel can claim that despite having fewer allies and more enemies, Israel remains secure thanks to its technology.” 

Continuing on in his speech in November, Peres stated: “We have relations with countries that don’t recognise us, but they want to co-operate with us for security. What is called ‘security’ in the past was armies. Today it is security organisations, whether governmental or non-governmental.” 

“Israel is expected to be Brazil’s
top choice as it prepares its estimated $3bn worth of security projects for the 2014 World Cup
and 2016 Olympics.”

The Homeland Security Conference attracted representatives from countries around the world, inviting them to browse the new products exhibited by Israel’s leading security companies. Countries in attendance included the very same ones that planned to vote in favour of Palestinian statehood – against Israel’s wishes – at the UNGA later that month.   

Thus, for all the significance that UNGA’s vote implied about Israel’s waxing isolation, the vote hardly affected the Zionist State’s hopes to share a sizeable portion of the growing global demand for homeland security products – worth $190bn today and estimated to grow to a stunning $330bn by 2020. 

Consider the case of Brazil, which in many ways embodies this paradox. Brazil voted in favour of Palestinian statehood at the UNGA on November 29, indeed making a strong declaration of support for the end of the blockade of Gaza and denouncing the “inoperative Quartet and silent Security Council”. While this brought much “sadness and disappointment” to the government of Israel, it is doubtless consoled by Brazil’s warm commitment to co-operating with Israel’s security industry, reiterated earlier that month. 

Brazil, which was the fifth largest importer of Israeli arms between 2005 and 2010, has been a profitable ally to Israeli security companies. Elbit Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries now provide Brazil with automated turrets, drones and perimeter defence systems that control the favelas (Brazil’s poor urban neighbourhoods) without putting Brazilian soldiers at risk, according to Hever. 

“Countries with extreme inequality (Brazil, India, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, etc) seem to be the natural market for homeland security products. This is where technology can be used to repress impoverished people, enraged about the inequality and exploitation,” said Hever. 

And while contracts have not yet been awarded, Israel is expected to be Brazil’s top choice as it prepares its estimated $3bn worth of security projects for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Providing “security” for these mega-sports events really means sweeping the host city “clean” of the unattractive indigent communities that make their homes there. 

‘Revolutionary’ future

At the end of his speech, the philosopher Peres mused about the “revolutionary” future Israel’s homeland security is helping to pioneer, and in the process produced a revealing metaphor with ominous implications: 

“What introduced civilisation? My answer is the mirror. Once you have the mirror, every person washes himself every morning – without a government or a dictator [telling them to] – because he would like to look aesthetic and clean. 

Would we be able to create a mirror to see inside ourselves, I’m sure it would have the same effect: to make the world cleaner and better. And that would create new industries.” 

While one can only wonder what the bloodstained Peres sees when he looks in the mirror, it’s clear that Israel looks at the myriad conflicts and hostilities of the world and sees a lucrative market to exploit for high-tech products that penetrate borders, both personal and political.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco and the West Bank. She is a graduate of Stanford University. 

Follow her on Twitter: @CharEsilver