A spike in demand for weapons from Europe and the Abraham Accords made 2022 a banner year for the Israeli arms industry. Tel Aviv’s weapons exports reached a record $12.5 billion last year.
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO members have increased their defense spending. The alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has been pushing counties to increase their military expenditures to 2% of their gross domestic product.
Last month, Stoltenberg said he expects members to commit to hitting that spending level during a July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. The military-industrial complex in the US and Israel has been some of the largest benefices of the new arms race.
Germany and Israel inked a contract worth over $3.5 billion for the Arrow-3 anti-missile system because of the war in Ukraine. A diplomat speaking with Haaretz said, “If it wasn’t for the war [between Russia and Ukraine], this deal wouldn’t have happened now.”
A breakdown of the 2022 arms sales shows drones comprised 25% of last year’s exports, while missiles, rockets and air defense systems accounted for 19%. About 30% of the weapons were sold to Europe, while Arab countries that normalized relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords accounted for 24%.
In the last year of the Donald Trump presidency, Washington brokered a series of agreements between Tel Aviv and several Arab nations. While the White House billed the deals as fostering peace, weapons industry expert William Hartung argued the Abraham Accords would create an arms race in the Middle East.
“I have referred to the Abraham Accords as the ‘Arms Sales Accords’ because they could yield tens of billions [of dollars in] new arms sales to the region,” Hartung predicted in 2020. “They will do more for weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing and undemocratic regimes like the UAE than they will to promote peace in the region.”
Hartung appears to have been proven correct, as Israel inked significant arms deal with Morocco since the two countries made the agreement. On Friday, Tel Aviv’s envoy to the country said an Israeli arms maker planned to open two sites in Morocco.
The Joe Biden administration hopes to expand on his predecessor’s deals by enlarging the Abraham Accords to include Saudi Arabia. A normalization agreement would likely lead to more arms trade between the two states.
Israel’s growing role as a global arms broker comes as Tel Aviv has cracked down on the Palestinians living under occupation. Since 2021, multiple human rights monitoring groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have deemed Tel Aviv’s systematic oppression of the Palestinians as apartheid.
Since those reports were issued, the Israeli government has taken an even more aggressive stance toward the Palestinians. The current national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has called for the expulsion of disloyal citizens of Israel, including members of the Knesset.
The recent arms sales will give Tel Aviv additional sway over governments that might condemn Israel as an apartheid state. “No European government will withdraw its support for the two-state solution or start supporting the settlements because of a defense deal.” a diplomat told Haaretz. “But this does mean that when the leaders speak and there’s a dialogue between the professional teams, the occupation is not necessarily the first issue to rise.”