The Illegal Arms Trade and Israel

By Terry Crawford-Browne, World BEYOND War, February 24 2021

An Israeli documentary film called The Lab was made in 2013. It was shown in Pretoria and Cape Town, Europe, Australia and the US and won numerous awards, even including at the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival.[i]

The thesis of the film is that the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is a “lab” so that Israel can boast that its weapons have been “battle-tested and proven” for export. And, most grotesquely, how Palestinian blood is turned into money!

The American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers) in Jerusalem has just released its Database of Israeli Military and Security Exports (DIMSE).[ii]  The study details the global trade and use of Israeli armaments and security systems from the year 2000 to 2019.  India and the US have been the two major importers, with Turkey third.

The study notes:

‘Israel ranks annually among the ten biggest arms exporters in the world, but does not report regularly to the United Nations registry on conventional arms, and has not ratified the Arms Trade Treaty. The Israeli domestic legal system does not require transparency on issues on arms trade, and there are currently no legislated human right restrictions on Israeli arms exports beyond abiding by UN Security Council arms embargoes.”

Israel has provided Myanmar’s dictators with military equipment since the 1950s.   But only in 2017 — after global uproar over the massacres of Muslim Rohingyas and after Israeli human rights activists used Israeli courts to expose the trade — did this become an embarrassment to the Israeli government.[iii]

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2018 declared that Myanmar’s general should be tried for genocide. The International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2020 ordered Myanmar to prevent genocidal violence against the Rohingya minority, and also to preserve evidence of past attacks.[iv]

Given the history of the Nazi Holocaust, it is diabolical that the Israeli government and the Israeli arms industry have been actively complicit in genocide in Myanmar and Palestine plus numerous other countries, including Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Kashmir, Serbia and the Philippines.[v]  It is equally scandalous that the US protects its Israeli satellite state through abuse of its veto powers in the UN Security Council.

In his book entitled War against the People, Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper opens with a question:  “How does Israel get away with it?” His answer is that Israel does the “dirty work” for the US not only in the Middle East, but also Africa, Latin America and elsewhere by selling weapons, security systems and keeping dictatorships in power through the plunder of natural resources including diamonds, copper, coltan, gold and oil.[vi]

Halper’s book corroborates both The Lab and the DIMSE study.  A former US ambassador to Israel in 2009 controversially warned Washington that Israel was increasingly becoming “the promised land for organised crime”. The devastation now of its arms industry is such that Israel has become a “gangster state”.

Nine African countries are included in the DIMSE database – Angola, Cameroon, Côte D’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, South Sudan and Uganda. The dictatorships in Angola, Cameroon and Uganda have relied on Israeli military support for decades.  All nine countries are notorious for corruption and human rights abuses that invariably are inter-connected.

Angola’s long-time dictator Eduardo dos Santos was reputedly the wealthiest man in Africa whilst his daughter Isobel also became the richest woman in Africa.[vii]  Both father and daughter are finally being prosecuted for corruption.[viii]  Oil deposits in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan and Western Sahara (occupied since 1975 by Morocco in contravention of international law) provide the rationale for Israeli involvements.

Blood diamonds are the enticement in Angola and Côte D’Ivoire (plus also the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe which are not included in the study).  The war in the DRC is referred to as “Africa’s First World War” because its root causes are cobalt, coltan, copper and industrial diamonds required by the so-called “First World’s” war business.

Through his Israeli bank, the diamond magnate, Dan Gertler in 1997 provided the financial support for the ouster of Mobutu Sese Seko and the takeover of the DRC by Laurant Kabila.  Israeli security services thereafter kept Kabila and his son Joseph in power whilst Gertler looted the DRC’s natural resources.[ix]

Just days before leaving office in January, former President Donald Trump suspended Gertler’s inclusion in the Global Magnitsky sanctions list on which Gertler had been placed in 2017 for “opaque and corrupt mining deals in DRC”. Trump’s attempt to “pardon” Gertler is now being challenged in the US State Department and US Treasury by thirty Congolese and international civil society organizations.[x]

Although Israel has no diamond mines, it is the world’s leading cutting and polishing centre.  Established during the Second World War with South African assistance, the diamond trade led the way for Israel’s industrialization. The Israeli diamond industry is also closely connected to both the arms industry and Mossad.[xi]

Côte D’Ivoire has been politically unstable for the past twenty years, and its diamond production is negligible.[xii] Yet the DIMSE report reveals that Côte D’Ivoire’s annual diamond trade amounts to between 50 000 and 300 000 carats, with Israeli arms companies being actively involved in the guns-for-diamonds trade.

Israeli citizens were also deeply implicated during the Sierra Leone civil war in the 1990s, and the guns-for diamonds trade.  Colonel Yair Klein and others provided training to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). “The RUF’s signature tactic was amputation of civilians, hacking off their arms, legs, lips and ears with machets and axes. The RUF’s goal was to terrorise the population and to enjoy uncontested dominion over the diamond fields.”[xiii]

Similarly, a Mossad front company allegedly rigged Zimbabwean elections during the Mugabe era[xiv]. Mossad then is also alleged to have organised the coup d’etat in 2017 when Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe.  Zimbabwean Marange diamonds are exported to Israel via Dubai.

In turn Dubai — the new home for the Gupta brothers is notorious as one of the world’s leading money-laundering centres, and which is also Israel’s new Arab friend — issues fraudulent certificates in terms of the Kimberley Process that those blood diamonds are conflict-free.  The stones are then cut and polished in Israel for export to the US, primarily to gullible young men who have swallowed De Beers’s advertising slogan that diamonds are forever.

South Africa ranks 47th in the DIMSE study. Arms imports from Israel since 2000 have been radar systems and aircraft pods for the arms deal BAE/Saab Gripens, riot vehicles and cyber security services. Unfortunately, the monetary values are not given. Before 2000, South Africa in 1988 bought 60 fighter aircraft which were no longer in use by the Israeli air force.  The aircraft were upgraded at a cost of $1.7 billion and renamed the Cheetah, and were delivered after 1994.

That association with Israel became a political embarrassment to the ANC. Although some planes were still in packing cases, those Cheetahs were sold at fire-sale prices to Chile and Ecuador.  Those Cheetahs were then replaced by British and Swedish BAE Hawks and BAE/Saab Gripens at a further cost of $2.5 billion.

The BAE/Saab arms deal corruption scandal has still not been resolved. About 160 pages of affidavits from the British Serious Fraud Office and the Scorpions detail how and how BAE paid bribes of £115 million (R2 billion), to whom those bribes were paid, and which bank accounts in South Africa and overseas were credited.

Against guarantees from the British government and the signature of Trevor Manuel, the 20 year Barclays Bank loan agreement for those BAE/Saab fighter aircraft is a textbook example of “third world” debt entrapment by British banks.

Although it accounts for less than one percent of world trade, the war business has been estimated to account for 40 to 45 percent of global corruption. This extraordinary estimate comes from – of all places — the Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA) via the US Department of Commerce. [xv]

Arms trade corruption goes right-to-the-top.  It includes the Queen, Prince Charles and other members of the British royal family.[xvi]  With a handful of exceptions, it also includes every member of the US Congress irrespective of political party.  President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961 warned about the consequences of what he termed “the military-industrial-congressional complex”.

As featured in The Lab, Brazilian police death squads and also about 100 American police forces have been trained in the methods used by Israelis to suppress Palestinians.  The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other Afro-Americans in other cities illustrates how the violence and racism of Israeli apartheid is exported around the world. The resultant Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted that the US is a severely unequal and dysfunctional society.

The UN Security Council back in November 1977 determined that apartheid and human rights abuses in South Africa constituted a threat to international peace and security.  An arms embargo was imposed which was flouted by numerous countries, notably Germany, France, Britain, the US and most especially Israel.[xvii]

Billions upon billions of rand were poured into Armscor and other arms contractors on development of nuclear weapons, missiles and other equipment, which proved totally useless against domestic opposition to apartheid. Yet instead of successfully defending the apartheid system, that reckless expenditure on armaments bankrupted South Africa.

As the former editor of Business Day, the late Ken Owen wrote:

“The evils of apartheid belonged to the civilian leaders: its insanities were entirely the property of the military officer class.  It is an irony of our liberation that Afrikaner hegemony might have lasted another half century had the military theorists not diverted the national treasure into strategic undertakings like Mossgas and Sasol, Armscor and Nufcor that, in the end, achieved nothing for us but bankruptcy and shame.”[xviii]

In similar vein, the editor of Noseweek magazine, Martin Welz commented: “Israel had the brains, but no money. South Africa had the money, but no brains”. In short, South Africa financed the development of the Israeli armaments industry which today is a major threat to world peace. When Israel finally buckled under US pressure in 1991 and began to back out of its alliance with South Africa, Israeli arms industry and military leaders objected vehemently.

They were apoplectic and insisted it was “suicidal.”  They declared “South Africa had saved Israel”. We should also remember that the semi-automatic G3 rifles used by the South African Police in the 2012 Marikana massacre were manufactured by Denel under licence from Israel.

Two months after President PW Botha’s notorious Rubicon Speech in August 1985, this one-time conservative white banker became a revolutionary. I was then Nedbank’s Regional Treasury Manager for the Western Cape, and responsible for international banking operations.  I was also a supporter of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), and refused to allow my teenage son to be registered for conscription into the apartheid army.

The penalty for refusal to serve in the SADF was six years’ imprisonment. An estimated 25 000 young white men left the country rather than be conscripted into the apartheid army.  That South Africa remains one of the most violent countries in the world is just one of the many on-going consequences of colonialism and apartheid, and their wars.

With Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late Dr Beyers Naude, we launched the international banking sanctions campaign at the United Nations in New York in 1985 as a last nonviolent initiative to avert a civil war and racial bloodbath.  The parallels between the American civil rights movement and the global campaign against apartheid were obvious to Afro-Americans.  The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act was passed a year later over President Ronald Reagan’s veto.

With Perestroika and the approaching end of the Cold War in 1989, both President George Bush (Senior) and the US Congress threatened to prohibit South Africa from conducting any financial transactions in the US. Tutu and we anti-apartheid activists could no longer be smeared as “communists!”  That was the background to President FW de Klerk’s speech in February 1990. De Klerk saw the writing on the wall.

Without access to the seven major New York banks and the US dollar payment system, South Africa would have been unable to trade anywhere in the world. President Nelson Mandela subsequently acknowledged that the New York banking sanctions campaign was the single-most effective strategy against apartheid.[xix]

It is a lesson of particular relevance in 2021 for Israel which, like apartheid South Africa, falsely claims to be a democracy. Smearing its critics as “anti-Semitic” is increasingly counter-productive as increasing numbers of Jews globally disassociate themselves from Zionism.

That Israel is an apartheid state is now extensively documented – including by the Russell Tribunal on Palestine which met in Cape Town in November 201l. It confirmed that Israeli government conduct towards Palestinians meets the legal criteria of apartheid as a crime against apartheid.

Within “Israel proper,” more than 50 laws discriminate against Palestinian Israeli citizens on the basis of citizenship, land and language, with 93 percent of the land being reserved for Jewish occupation only. During apartheid South Africa, such humiliations were described as “petty apartheid.” Beyond the “green line,” the Palestine Authority is a “grand apartheid” Bantustan, but with even less autonomy than had the Bantustans in South Africa.

The Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empire, the British Empire and the Soviet Empire all eventually collapsed after being bankrupted by the costs of their wars.  In the pithy words of the late Chalmers Johnson, who authored three books on the future collapse of the US Empire:  “things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”[xx]

The impending collapse now of the US Empire was highlighted by the insurrection in Washington instigated by Trump on 6 January. The option in the 2016 presidential election had been between a war criminal and a lunatic. I argued then that the lunatic was actually the better choice because Trump would bust the system whereas Hillary Clinton would have massaged and prolonged it.

Under the pretensions of “keeping America safe,” hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on useless weapons. That the US has lost every war it has fought since the Second World War doesn’t seem to matter as long as the money flows to Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and thousands of other arms contractors, plus the banks and oil companies.[xxi]

The US spent $5.8 trillion just on nuclear weapons from 1940 until the end of the Cold War in 1990 and last year proposed to spend another $1.2 trillion to modernize them.[xxii]  The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Treaty became international law on 22 January 2021.

Israel has an estimated 80 nuclear warheads targeted at Iran. President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in 1969 concocted the fiction that “the US would accept Israel’s nuclear status as long as Israel did not acknowledge it publicly”. [xxiii]

As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) acknowledges, Iran abandoned its ambitions to develop nuclear weapons as long ago as 2003 after the Americans hanged Saddam Hussein, who had been “their man” in Iraq.  Israeli insistence that Iran is a threat to international peace and security is as false as the fake Israeli intelligence in 2003 about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”.

The British “discovered” oil in Persia (Iran) in 1908, and plundered it.  After a democratically-elected government nationalized the Iranian oil industry, the British and US governments in 1953 orchestrated a coup d’etat, and then supported the Shah’s vicious dictatorship until he was overthrown during the 1979 Iranian revolution.

The Americans were (and remain) enraged. In revenge and collusion with Saddam plus numerous governments (including apartheid South Africa), the US deliberately instigated an eight year war between Iraq and Iran.  Given that history and including Trump’s revocation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it is no wonder the Iranians are so sceptical about US commitments to abide by any agreements or treaties.

At stake is the role of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and US determination to impose its financial as well as military hegemony over the entire globe.  This also explains the motivation for Trump’s attempts to instigate a revolution in Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves.

Trump had claimed in 2016 that he would “drain the swamp” in Washington.  Instead, during his presidential watch, the swamp degenerated into a cesspit, as highlighted by his arms deals with the despots of Saudi Arabia, Israel and UAE plus his “peace deal of the century” with Israel.[xxiv]

President Joe Biden owes his election to the Afro-American voter turn-out in the “blue states”. Given the riots in 2020 and the impact of the Black Lives Matter initiatives, and the impoverishment of the middle and working classes, his presidency will have to prioritise human rights issues domestically, and also to disengage internationally.

After 20 years of wars since 9/11, the US has been outmaneuvered in Syria by Russia and by Iran in Iraq. And Afghanistan has yet again proven its historic reputation as “the graveyard of empires”. As the land-bridge between Asia, Europe and Africa, the Middle East is vital to China’s ambitions to reassert its historic position as the world’s dominant country.

A reckless Israeli/Saudi/US war against Iran would almost certainly provoke involvement by both Russia and China.  The global consequences could be catastrophic for humanity.

Global outrage after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been compounded by revelations that the US and Britain (plus other countries including South Africa) were complicit in supplying Saudi Arabia and UAE not only weapons but also in providing logistical support for Saudi/UAE war in Yemen.

Biden has already announced that the US relationship with Saudi Arabia will be “recalibrated”.[xxv] Whilst proclaiming “America is Back,” the realities facing the Biden administration are domestic crises. The middle and working classes have been impoverished and, because of the financial priorities given to wars since 9/11, the American infrastructure has been woefully neglected.  Eisenhower’s warnings in 1961 are now being vindicated.

More than 50 percent of the US Federal Government budget is spent on preparing for wars, and the continuing financial costs of past wars.  The world annually spends $2 trillion on war preparations, most of it by the US and its NATO allies.  A fraction of that could fund urgent climate change issues, poverty alleviation and a variety of other priorities.

Since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, OPEC oil has been priced in US dollars only. In an agreement negotiated by Henry Kissinger, the Saudi oil standard replaced the gold standard.[xxvi] The global implications were immense, and include:

  • US and British guarantees to the Saudi royal family against domestic insurrection,
  • OPEC oil must be priced in US dollars only, proceeds being deposited in New York and London banks. Accordingly, the dollar is the world’s reserve currency with the rest of the world funding the US banking system and economy, and America’s wars,
  • The Bank of England administers a “Saudi Arabian slush fund,” the purpose of which is to fund covert destabilization of resource-rich countries in Asia and Africa. Should Iraq, Iran, Libya or Venezuela demand payment in Euros or gold instead of dollars, the consequence is “regime change”.

Thanks to the Saudi oil standard, seemingly unlimited US military spending is actually paid for by the rest of the world. This includes the costs of about 1 000 US bases around the globe, their purpose being to ensure that the US with only four percent of the world’s population can maintain its military and financial hegemony. About 34 of those bases are in Africa, two of them in Libya.[xxvii]

The “Five Eyes Alliance” of white English-speaking countries (comprising the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and of which Israel is a de facto member) have arrogated to themselves the right to intervene almost anywhere in the world.  NATO intervened disastrously in Libya in 2011 after Muammar Gaddafi demanded payment in gold for Libyan oil instead of dollars.

With the US in economic decline and China in the ascendancy, such military and financial structures are neither fit-for-purpose in the 21st century, nor affordable.  After compounding the 2008 financial crisis with massive bail-outs to banks and Wall Street, the Covid pandemic plus even larger financial bail-outs has speeded the collapse of the US Empire.

It coincides with the reality that the US is no longer even the dominant importer of and dependant on Middle East oil.  The US has been replaced by China, which also is America’s largest creditor and holder of US Treasury Bills.  The implications for Israel as a colonial-settler state in the Arab world will be immense once “big daddy” cannot or will not intervene.

The gold and oil prices used to be the barometer by which international conflicts were measured. The gold price is stagnant and the oil price is also relatively weak, whilst Saudi economy is in severe crisis.

By contrast, the price of bitcoins has rocketed – from $1 000 when Trump came to office in 2017 to over $58 000 on 20 February.  Even New York bankers are suddenly projecting that the bitcoin price could even reach $200 000 by the end of 2021 as the US dollar goes into decline, and a new global financial system emerges out of the chaos.[xxviii]

Terry Crawford-Browne is World BEYOND War Country Coordinator – South Africa, and the author of Eye on the Money (2007), Eye on the Diamonds, (2012) and Eye on the Gold (2020).


[i]                 Kersten Knipp, “The Lab:  Palestinians as Guinea Pigs?” Deutsche Welle/Qantara de 2013, 10 December 2013.

[ii]           Database of Israeli Military and Security Exports (DIMSA). American Friends Service Committee, November 2020.

[iii]               Judah Ari Gross, “After courts gagged ruling on arms sales to Myanmar, activists call for protest,” Times of Israel, 28 September 2017.

[iv]                Owen Bowcott and Rebecca Ratcliffe, “UN’s top court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from Genocide, The Guardian, 23 January 2020.

[v]                 Richard Silverstein, “Israel’s Genocidal Arms Customers,” Jacobin Magazine, November 2018.

[vi]                Jeff Halper, War against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, Pluto Press, London 2015

[vii]               Ben Hallman, “5 Reasons why Luanda Leaks is bigger than Angola,” International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), 21 January 2020.

[viii]              Reuters, “Angola moves to seize Dos Santos-linked asset in Dutch Court,” Times Live, 8 February 2021.

[ix]                Global Witness, “Controversial billionaire Dan Gertler appears to have used suspected international money laundering network to dodge US sanctions and acquire new mining assetrs in DRC,” 2 July 2020.

[x]                 Human Rights Watch, “Joint letter to the US on Dan Gertler’s License (No. GLOMAG-2021-371648-1), 2 February 2021.

[xi]                Sean Clinton, “The Kimberley Process: Israel’s multi-billion dollar blood diamond industry,” Middle East Monitor, 19 November 2019.

[xii]               Tetra Tech on behalf of US AID, “Artisanal Diamond Mining Sector in Côte D’Ivoire,” October 2012.

[xiii]              Greg Campbell, Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 2002.

[xiv]              Sam Sole, “Zim voters’ roll in hands of suspect Israeli company,” Mail and Guardian, 12 April 2013.

[xv]               Joe Roeber, “Hard-Wired For Corruption,” Prospect Magazine, 28 August 2005

[xvi]              Phil Miller, “Revealed: British royals met tyrannical Middle East monarchies over 200 times since Arab Spring erupted 10 years ago,” Daily Maverick, 23 February 2021.

[xvii]             Sasha Polakow-Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, Jacana Media, Cape Town, 2010.

[xviii]            Ken Owen, Sunday Times, 25 June 1995.

[xix]              Anthony Sampson, “A Hero from an Age of Giants,” Cape Times, 10 December 2013.

[xx]          Chalmers Johnson (who died in 2010) wrote numerous books.  His trilogy on the US Empire, Blowback (2004), The Sorrows of Empire (2004) and Nemesis (2007) focus on the Empire’s future bankruptcy because of its reckless militarism.  A 52 minute video interview produced in 2018 is an insightful prognosis and readily available free-of-charge.

[xxi]              William Hartung, The Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex, 2012

[xxii]             Hart Rapaport, “The US government plans to spend over one trillion dollars on Nuclear Weapons,” Columbia K=1 Project, Center for Nuclear Studies, 9 July 2020

[xxiii]            Avner Cohen and William Burr, “Don’t Like That Israel Has the Bomb? Blame Nixon,” Foreign Affairs, 12 September 2014.

[xxiv]             Interactive Al, “Trump’s Middle East Plan and a Century of Failed Deals,” 28 January 2020.

[xxv]              Becky Anderson, “US sidelines Crown Prince in recalibration with Saudi Arabia,” CNN, 17 February 2021

[xxvi]             F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, 2011.

[xxvii]            Nick Turse, “US military says it has a ‘light footprint in Africa: These documents show a vast network of bases.” The Intercept, 1 December 2018.

[xxviii]           “Should the World Embrace Cryptocurrencies?” Al Jazeera: Inside Story, 12 February 2021.

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