Israeli arms sales to African countries are growing steadily, with defence exports increasing 70% between 2015 and 2016 to reach $275 million.
2017 numbers are not yet available, but Israeli ministry of defence sources say that last year the numbers were even higher.
The Israeli ministry of defence and defence companies seldom release detailed information on sales to African countries but it is known that African armed forces are interested in different types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), loitering weapons, communications systems and radars.
Supplying weapons to African countries will likely be on the agenda of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is due to begin a four-day visit to Africa on Wednesday. This is the first official visit by an Israeli defence minister to the continent in decades.
Liberman is scheduled to visit Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. He is expected to hold a series of diplomatic meetings with heads of state and their defence ministers in all three nations.
According to the Israeli press, an Israeli security mission made a secret visit to Rwanda last month in an effort to sell weapons and military technology to the country. According to the reports, the move apparently comes after Tel Aviv signed a deal which would see Rwanda receive asylum seekers which are being forcibly expelled from Israel.
It was previously reported that the Rwandan Army is equipped with Israeli made Tavor assault rifles, and in 2016 it emerged that Rwanda had received ATMOS 2000 155 mm self-propelled howitzers from Israel’s Soltam.
Nigeria is a big potential customer for Israel systems. There are no details on specific deals but sources say that the army of this country has evaluated different Israeli made UAVs. In 2006 the Nigerian Air Force received a number of Aerostar UAVs from Israel’s Aeronautics Defence Systems. The company in December 2017 announced it had signed a contract for the sale of its Aerostar UAVs to an African country. The contract is valued at $13 million, with deliveries to take 18 months. In February it was revealed that the Amisom mission in Somalia is receiving Aerostar UAVs.
The Aerostar is 4.5 meters long, has a wingspan of 8.7 meters and a maximum takeoff weight of 230 kg. The UAV has a 12 hour endurance and a maximum speed of 200 km/h.
Israeli UAV manufacturer Innocon has supplied its systems to at least one African country but refuses to elaborate on the deal while Meteor Aerospace is offering its systems to at least two African countries. The company is developing a new 1 300 kg Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned aircraft, named Impact-1300, after developing the Impact 700, with a total takeoff weight of 730 kg. The Impact-700 UAV system is currently in series production.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI’s) Arms Transfers database, over the last several years Israel has supplied armoured vehicles and other equipment to Africa. This includes five Musketeer armoured vehicles and 16 Thunder armoured personnel carriers (APCs) to Cameroon; 11 RAM armoured vehicles to Chad; 75 Thunder APCs to Ethiopia; and 55 RAMs to Senegal.
Deals not yet reported on by SIPRI include Angolan Cessna Citations configured for maritime surveillance by Israel’s BIRD Aerosystems; and an order from an undisclosed African nation for $240 million worth of defensive aids, communications and avionics equipment from Elbit Systems.
SIPRI notes that “Israel is one of a range of smaller suppliers of major weapons and other military equipment to sub-Saharan Africa. It has long sold or given weapons to a host of developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and the deals are often accompanied by serving or retired Israeli military personnel and Israeli civilian contractors as instructors. Although Israeli arms exports, especially of major weapons, to sub-Saharan Africa are limited, Israeli weapons, brokers and instructors are likely to sometimes have a more significant impact than mere numbers of supplied weapons imply.”
Over the last decade, Israeli exports to Africa have included targeting pods, self-propelled guns and mortars, UAVs, multiple rocket launchers, armoured vehicles, patrol craft and radars, amongst others. Aircraft and vehicle upgrades are also a service Israel has provided to African militaries.
Israel reports exports of major weapons systems to Africa, but is not so transparent regarding small arms. It is known to have supplied Galil assault rifles to half a dozen African nations, including South Sudan, Chad, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Rwanda and Swaziland. Negev light machineguns and Uzi submachineguns have also appeared in countries such as the DRC and Equatorial Guinea.