The Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center was bustling with military personnel. Tall, broad-shouldered soldiers donning masks and sunglasses had their guns at the ready, and a mini-drone built at Ariel University, an Israeli school located in the occupied West Bank, went up in the air, flying high as the press snapped photos.
This was not war, but one of the many demos held at the ISDEF expo, an annual June event that attracts thousands of security officials and professionals interested in weapons. Arms fairs in Israel showcase the latest products the profitable Israeli weapons industry manufactures — and the demos are the perfect place to show those products off.
As the demo was beginning, Jonas Zelken, a presenter at the weapons fair, looked on as the soldiers — who formerly served in an Israeli counterterrorism unit — threw a mock grenade into a model home in what looked like enemy territory in an Arab country. Zelken eagerly explained to attendees that they were seeing “beautiful” soldiers setting up a mock communications base during battle and a “sexy” drone.
He also reeled off the names of companies whose products the soldiers were showcasing at the Israeli arms expo: Spuhr, a Swedish company that makes rifle mounts for sight; InteliComm, an American company that produces communications equipment; and Netline, an Israeli company that manufactures a jammer to prevent improvised explosive devices from going off.
As weapons demos and presentations on Israeli fighting tactics took place, officials from the Czech Republic, Mexico, Singapore, Germany, Greece and other countries, many of them in uniform, walked around the center, checking out the shiny wares they could buy for their own militaries — including drones, armored vehicles and rifles. Attendees eagerly picked up the rifles and pretended to fire them, while others played with toy drones meant to look like the real thing.
The featured arms companies, like the attendees interested in buying their products, came from around the world, but Israeli companies far outnumbered other nations. The fair is put on with the active help and cooperation of the Israeli government, and the ISDEF expo board of advisers is composed of elite former Israeli military officers. The U.S. Department of Commerce is the only foreign governmental body to co-sponsor the event.
Israel has established itself as a leading hub for weapons makers, capitalizing on the constant state of conflict the country is in and the close coordination between the military and the weapons industry. At the ISDEF opening ceremony, Ziva Eger, the Israeli Ministry of Economy’s director of the division for foreign investment and industrial cooperation, boasted about how Israel takes “technology from the defense sector and just implements it to the civilian sector.”
In Israel, nearly 6,800 individuals deal in weapons exports at over 1,000 companies, according to Defense Ministry data from 2013. The country’s weapons industry brought in about $5.6 billion last year, making Israel the eighth largest weapons exporter globally, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that 150,000 Israeli households rely on the weapons industry for income.
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