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Israel punches above weight in Africa arms exports

Although Israel accounted for less than 1% of transfers of major weapons to sub-Saharan Africa for the period 2006–10, the supply of small arms and light weapons, military electronics and training may mean the country plays a bigger role than the numbers imply, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) avers in a research paper.

Deliveries consisted mainly of sales or donations of small numbers of artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles, armoured vehicles and patrol craft, the report, titled Israeli arms transfers to sub-Saharan Africa, adds. In the period 2006–10 Israel delivered major weapons to nine sub-Saharan
states—Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, the Seychelles, South Africa and Uganda. (The SA order was for Litening targeting pods for the Saab Gripen advanced light fighter.)

Although Israeli arms supplies to sub-Saharan Africa are small, they can play a significant role in armed conflicts or human rights abuses in the region, SIPRI says. “While there are no clear cases where deliveries of Israeli weapons alone have played the main or decisive role in such conflicts or abuses, in several cases they are clearly important. A typical example is the supply of RAM-2000 light armoured vehicles, rifles and other military equipment, probably including electronic surveillance systems from Israel to Chad between 2005 and 2008. These weapons were used in the internal conflict in Chad that erupted in late 2005; the conflict ended in 2010 with a government victory, boosted by arms supplies from several countries.

Uganda's armed forces “may have used some artillery supplied by Israel in its ongoing conflict with the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). During joint DRC–Uganda operations in late 2008 against the LRA, Ugandan MiG-21 combat aircraft were used. These aircraft had been modernised in Israel in 2003 and the pilots trained by Israelis. Much less visible is the impact of Israeli surveillance and other electronic systems. Generally, these systems are seen as significant force multipliers in conflict, including against armed rebel groups. Deliveries of UAVs, USVs and
other surveillance systems have been mentioned as important for the success of operations during 2007–10 by the Nigerian armed forces against the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND),” SIPRI says.

“In Angola, Israeli-supplied UAVs are used to provide security for a private oil company in Cabinda, a region responsible for a significant part of Angola’s wealth that has an active armed rebel movement.78 The Ugandan Government reportedly also operates a light aircraft fitted with advanced Israeli electro-optical surveillance equipment, probably for use against the LRA. In one case the use of Israeli UAVs in a conflict is clearly documented. In November 2004 French peacekeeping forces in Côte d’Ivoire came under air attack from government forces shortly after a UAV had been observed flying over their positions. Israel had supplied these UAVs barely six months earlier, when the conflict was already ongoing, and Israelis were suspected to be involved in
operating the vehicles. Israeli arms supplies to and training of presidential guards and special forces in several African states, such as Equatorial Guinea and Guinea, can also be linked to conflict and abuses.

“The use of Israeli weapons has not been restricted to use by the originally intended recipients. For example, as mentioned above, some of the rifles supplied to Chad were found a year later in the hands of Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel forces operating in the Darfur region of Sudan, which was at that time covered by a UN arms embargo. It has been widely reported that the Chadian Government supported JEM, but it remains unclear if the Chadian Government delivered the weapons to the rebels or if the rebels acquired them without government approval.

“Compared with total Israeli arms exports, Israel’s exports of weapons and training to sub-Saharan Africa are limited. However, given that total arms flows (from all suppliers) to Africa are limited in volume, Israeli weapons and trainers observed in numerous African trouble spots may play a bigger
role than their quantities imply. Israeli Government policies on supplies to the region are unclear, but they appear to be aimed at generating sales for Israel’s arms industry and at developing ties with several strategically located countries.

“The commercial aspect is an important driver for Israel’s arms sales. The Israeli arms industry is extremely export dependent, and maintaining the industry is considered vital for both Israel’s economy and security. While the arms exports of many other large arms producers account for a larger part of the production of the arms industry than production for the domestic market, the difference between Israeli exports and domestic consumption is extreme. Even if the African market for arms is not very big on the global scale or on the national scale for Israel, several larger deals have been won by Israeli companies, and there is potential for further large sales, especially in resource-rich countries that have already bought Israeli weapons in the past few yearsand that are likely to modernise their armed forces.

“Israel’s willingness to supply regimes with questionable legitimacy or human rights records certainly strengthens the competitiveness of Israeli companies. Developing military ties, particularly to those countries that are strategically located, is a second driver for Israeli arms sales to several African countries. Arms supplies to, for example, states in East Africa play a role in maintaining friendly relations as well as in strengthening Israel-friendly states against what Israel sees as a mainly Iran-supported policies against Israel.

“Israeli arms transfers to Africa illustrate the need to include smaller suppliers and issues such as training and intelligence systems in discussions on controls of the arms trade—which tend to focus on major weapons, SALW and ammunition—in order to address the possible negative effects of arms supplies to Africa” says SIPRI.
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