In 2013, Jane’s Weekly Defense Magazine ranked Israel as the world’s sixth largest arms producer. The country has some six hundred defense companies, including about four hundred devoted to homeland security (HLS). Almost ten percent of all Israelis are in some way economically dependent on the security industry.
Israel’s defense industry has a competitive advantage in the global arms market because weapons, surveillance technologies, and other mechanisms of warfare have been tested and put to use in the battlespace of Palestine. Security fairs are nodal points for capitalizing on this advantage, and play a crucial role in protecting this income stream by securing export markets.
In Israel, approximately fifteen security fairs are organized every year with the aims of exporting weapons, branding Israel, and facilitating networking. Moreover, the country is well-represented at most major security fairs including, among other places, the United States, Europe, China, Brazil, and India. While such fairs are not the only avenues for boosting export, they are important for Israel to display and commercialize its ways of war and control to a global community of security practitioners.
Israel’s homeland security industry is an often-neglected aspect of Israel’s colonial enterprise. The political economy of Israeli war-making is integral to Zionist state building, both as a crucial pillar of the national economy and a means of boosting the high-tech sector. The arms-related technological capabilities are influential in setting the national political agenda for security practices vis-à-vis Palestinians and other groups deemed risky. Through exports, both private and public security companies are harvesting huge profits from Israel’s warfare against the Palestinians. In short, the HLS sector provides a range of economic incentives for organized state violence.
The Fairs of War
Israeli security professionals universalize the marketability of their national experience of war and colonization on both sides of the Green Line by sterilizing and depoliticizing weaponry. For example, Martin Cowen, a South African national who is now an Israeli citizen and a representative of G.M. Advanced Fencing and Security Technologies, sells perimeter fencing and sensor systems used to protect Israeli settlements to industrial clients, such as Swedish and Danish storehouse owners. During an interview in September 2012, he explained how his company translates the appeal of his product to potential foreign buyers: “We are a small population. A lot of people have been in the army together. You will always find someone with a link.” In other words, we are small, vulnerable, and interconnected, like you.
The Second Israeli Homeland Security Conference in Tel Aviv in November 2012 hosted indoor exhibitions, talks by high-level experts, military strategists and politicians, and indoor live demonstrations. On the fourth day, the fair organizers arranged an impressive outdoor live performance of Israeli security methods.
Hundreds of foreign buyers, together with numerous members of the political and private security elite, drove in buses to the port of Ashkelon in southern Israel. There, they were feted with demonstrations of how Israel’s methods can be used to fight all kinds of attacks, including terrorist infiltrations by sea utilizing rubber boats, and pirate assaults on tankers. At the venue, the Israeli exhibitors showed how to detect and pacify threats with the use of the IDF’s official combat method – the martial art of Krav Maga. Today, numerous police forces and armies around the world use Krav Maga. It has also been branded as a leisure activity, with training available in fitness centers around the world, much like yoga or karate.
As I watched this demonstration, I was astonished by the bluntness of the event, which took place only a few kilometers from the besieged Gaza Strip. The Strip, Israel’s paramount battlespace, is characterized by authorities as a hostile Islamist entity, and popularly referred to as “Hamas-istan.”
[Live demonstration of Krav Maga at the Port of Ashkelon during the HLS Israel in November 2012.]
That 2012 show coincided with that start of Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day military offensive against Gaza. That war was initiated by a series of targeted killings utilizing armed drone technology and intelligence data from surveillance drones. While military jets were flying in the sky, in the nearby war “showroom,” a groovy James Bond theme song was playing, thus promoting familiarity and harmony between Israeli practices of war and the cognitive references of observer-consumers which included potential buyers from the United States, the European Union, Nigeria, China, and Italy.
The juxtaposition of real and fake war was revealing of how Israel’s ethnic segregation and enclavization are branded and sold at fairs. In explaining the origins of their technological innovations and business networks, the representatives of the Israeli HLS companies whom I interviewed skilfully presented Israel’s colonial expertise in neutral or even heroic frames of self-defense and state building. Israel’s branding and comparative HLS advantage involves the fact that the country has been in a permanent state of war while nevertheless providing (relative) security to its own population, including soldiers.
In contrast to the Israeli government’s secretive national security and control strategies, security fairs are, to a large extent, open-access commercial forums in which lethal, non-lethal, and “less than legal” technologies for warfare, surveillance, and population control are on display. In form, these events could be compared to car shows. What makes security fairs distinct, however, is the panoply of actors: military officials, public relations agents, business and state representatives, and technological and political analysts who are there to expound on states’ threat perceptions and procurement policies.
Seeing Is Striking
Eurosatory is one of Europe’s largest biannual security fairs. At the 2012 event in Paris, during a grand presentation at the Israeli pavilion, a young female Israeli Aerospace Industry (IAI) representative demonstrated the capabilities of an integrated system titled “Seeing is striking.” State-owned IAI is one of Israel’s largest and most successful exporters of drones and security systems; it markets itself as a global leader of homeland security and warfare products.
“Seeing is striking” encompasses a sophisticated system of surveillance, sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, i.e., drones), intelligence analysis, and shooting capabilities. According to the IAI representative, the targeted space is charged with a multisensory system that is able to register movement, while the IAI Panther UAV collects data from the air. The data is collated and transmitted through a network of optic fibers and then fused into detailed situation awareness reports. Based on the report, the system provides recommendations for the commander to shoot at the push of a button. The system inserts ammunition appropriate to the type of target and provides a “virtual trigger.” According to the IAI hostess, this enables the IDF commander and his team to carry out a mission in the following sequence: “Identify, request, designate and fire…allowing the commander in the battlefield to be the first to know, to understand and to act.” The shooter is a distant observer in the control room, whose act of “seeing” invests the strike capacity with high precision. In this way, the entire system is an integrated “system of systems” which is emblematic of Israel’s brand of expertise in warfare.
At the 2012 Eurosatory fair, a public relations representative of IAI explained that these kinds of integrated systems have been readily deployed in Israel, including for coastal surveillance in the south along the Gaza coastline and in the north around the naval border with Lebanon. A radar system has also been deployed over the Sinai. According to the IAI representative, this system, combined with a 270 kilometer-long electronic system or fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border, has resulted in a steep drop in attacks from the peninsula, and has prevented the penetration of terrorists and immigrants. IAI has assisted in the construction of a similar system – an electrified fence/wall at the US-Mexico border—by providing “the eyes and the ears of the system.”
[Israeli Aerospace Industries presentation of `Seeing is striking` at the Eurosatory security fair, Paris, June 2012.]
At the 2012 fair, the enemy’s landscape was portrayed as dry and Mediterranean through the projection of images of the West Bank and other “Middle Eastern settings,” such as Southern Lebanon or Syria. However, the technology at the Israeli pavilion is displayed in a sterile (context-neutral) fashion to appeal to consumers and users whose enemy landscapes are different. The opponent is merely the “enemy force” or the “terrorist” and the soldiers and security providers are portrayed as white Caucasian men with a heavy American accent designed to appear familiar to the audience of consumers. The urban landscapes depicted at various Israeli booths were designed to reflect Israeli expertise in conducting operations in densely populated areas. At one booth, white phosphorous weapons were on display. Indeed, compared to other national pavilions, Israel’s stood out like a Ferrari among sedans.
State-Building as Security Experience
Israel’s prominent role in the global security market is derived from its comparative advantages as a nation in permanent war, an ethno-nationalist colonial settler state with unsettled borders, and a highly educated workforce. Given the fundamental role of stolen land in this process, the Israeli HLS industry is an illustration of how a strategy of accumulation by dispossession works at its best.
Ramzi Gabbay, who chaired Israel’s 2012 HLS fair and is chairman of the state-run Israeli Export and International Cooperation Institute, explains: “To protect its people and property, since its establishment Israel has developed increasingly sophisticated means of detecting and neutralizing menace while building up our country.” At the closing ceremony of the 2012 HLS Israel fair, President Shimon Peres underlined the specific role of Israel in the weapons industry: “What is the contribution of the Jewish people to the world? I say: dissatisfaction. We have to try and try again in order to exist. Science relations are replacing political ones...In this country, it is not the land that has enriched the people but the people that has enriched the land.”
Israeli arms company representatives at security fairs provide common answers to the question of why Israel is such in leading force in HLS: experience and determination. The main narrative is how Israel, despite its small size and abundant enemies at different fronts, has managed to stay relatively safe while building up its “Silicon Wadi.” By the late 1990s, Israel’s high-tech sector, including its national HLS industry, was second only to America’s Silicon Valley. More abstractly, the reconceptualization of Israeli security reflects the transformation of the Jewish condition – that is, the historical insecurity underwriting life in the diaspora which predates the establishment of the Jewish state.
Security for Jews writ large requires a strong Israel that creates and maintains safe space for Jewish citizens. Gilliam Keinan, director of international marketing for the government-run Invest Israel, elaborated on this during an interview in August 2012: “We use the slogan ‘when break-through happens’ to try to tell the world that we are already advanced and have them come buy our tech. We are living in the Middle East, a sore thumb. We aren’t indigenous but we have never instigated war, always defended ourselves.”
In the same vein, several interviewees explicitly state how Israel’s war experiences have been resourcefully marketed to develop security solutions, which can be changed and fine-tuned to fit the specific needs of foreign consumers. Indeed, the process of Jewish state building has been a central pillar to Israeli security entrepreneurship and has given homeland security a central place in the national project. Thus to secure the homeland becomes more than a concrete effort to secure its Jewish citizens; it functions as a tool for constructing the nation. The national security mission comes to define and reify an ethnic group’s constitution as a nation. In this manner, Israel’s military economy is dependent on new technology and hi-tech progress while also being a key player in generating new knowledge and expertise.
Indeed, the ambition of creating relatively safe colonial spaces is a manifestation of the “Zionist experience,” which is subtly yet aggressively marketed at the fairs. Israel’s experience with war and low intensity conflict, and apolitical and economic system supporting the industry through state-based export agencies and funds for research and development help the Israeli HLS sector to retain a comparative advantage in the global markets. At numerous security fairs, I observed that many discussions revolve around two themes. The first is how to protect soldiers and the public. The second is related to the dilemmas attached to the increased autonomy of war technology, and the task of retaining human control of the devices – including securing an inflow of well-educated security practitioners and scientists to the industry.
In terms of intellectual capital, Israel is at the forefront. Within the industry’s own discourse, man’s mastering of the machine is termed the “human factor”; behind every piece of technology is an innovative idea, and because of the ever intensifying level of sophistication, skilled manpower is also needed to operate the security systems. Both intellectual innovation and precise human control over technology are skills well-mastered by Israel’s security elite. Due to their military background – they are often from elite units and most have college educations – the level of knowledge in the industry is remarkably high. Extensive cooperation between Israeli universities, the military, and HLS companies reinforces this synergy. But scientific expertise, especially within the high-tech companies, is the industry’s backbone.
Many company representatives also stress the need to adapt the technology to other political-legal frameworks. As the chief executive officer of a security company (who requested anonymity) noted in reference to the near absence of legal regulation of security practices, “Israel is unique in this regard, and that is a good thing.”
Israel’s integrated “systems of systems,” as they are termed, where everything is interconnected and managed through real-time surveillance, has become the Israeli way of war in Palestine. Whether lethal operations are executed or not, according to interviewed security experts, the threat of attack and even death carries an immensely disciplining effect on the targeted populations. The variation between more conventional combat and controlling and disciplining from afar through surveillance and intelligent infrastructure provides Israel with a range of benefits. The effect of the mere threat of violence installed by the technology enables the occupiers to rule with a minimum of contact with the occupied population. At the same time, the occupiers can test and refine their technology. For example, in an Israeli settlement security is provided without interfering too much with the daily lives of the settlers, just as physical encounter between occupier and occupied is minimized. The unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and the terms of the Oslo agreement that assigned a proxy security-providing function to the PA has made this system of security governance even more successful.
[Elbit panel on ”system of systems” security solution, HLS security fair, Tel Aviv, November, 2012.]
Changes in Israel’s high-tech security practices at home have provided the companies with a broader appeal for export, as reflected in the company product portfolios. Israel, in its comprehensive HLS Directory, terms itself a “one stop shop for security.” The integration of diversified products harmonizes with Israel’s varied ways of managing the Palestinian population, and this is displayed and sold at security fairs. There are meteorological devices to take wind strength and rain into consideration when carrying out attacks. There are methods for extracting drinking water supply from humidity for lone soldiers in the field. There is the “Camera Pill,” which is so small that it fits into the barrel of a gun in order to take pictures of the target while the shooter is hiding. The camera pill has been widely employed in the occupied territories, but it is now globally used for medical purposes. Because of its size, it can travel through the smallest intestines as it takes pictures.
Peres’s vision of an army of scientists is clearly promoted at the fairs, as one part of a deliberately apolitical approach aimed at selling products. At the same time, however, the marketing of Israeli HLS technology actively relies upon Israel’s unique experiences of perpetual war. Indeed, at times companies have used what they call the Jewish experience of living in fear and isolation as a key explanation for the success of the Israeli HLS sector. In the slogan of NICE Systems, a global leader in intent-based solutions, “The right people, at the right time,” which refers to Israel’s mounting capacity to respond to pervasive threats.
The so-called Israeli economic miracle – as proposed by Dan Senor and Saul Singer in their bestseller Start Up Nation – is rooted in Israel’s colonial experience. In their analysis, the diaspora experience, combined with a high educational level, military training, military experience, and the collective mentality of Israeli chutzpah (“fearlessness”) account for Israel’s economic success.
At the presentations of Israeli HLS technology at security fairs, the exhibitors frame incursion and war as exercises of independence and self-defense. What is even more striking in the discourse of the salespeople is that Israeli technology is presented as having its origins in militarism, but offers opportunities for Israel to frame its use in other locations as having a role in upholding law, order, and stability.
While Israel’s capacities have an obvious appeal for this sort of settler colonial warfare, Israel aggressively markets its capacities and products to non-military sectors. Israel transfers products battle-tested in Palestine to places and policy fields where controlling peoples’ movement is necessary – urban planning and securing gated communities, for mega events such as the Olympics, and critical infrastructure like offshore oil drilling platforms. And sometimes such capacities spill into markets and needs very different from those linked to security. For example, some Israeli technologies originally developed for military purposes have spread to clean-tech or medical technology, wherein refined instruments are needed for advanced data storing or special optics.
Furthermore, the Israeli HLS industry is crucial to the dynamics of the Israel security apparatus and economy. For the link between the local sites in which Israeli initially deploys this technology and the global sites to which it exports, it nurtures and benefits the Israeli security elite. In effect, Palestine is turned into a source of revenue for hundreds of companies.
In turn, such companies have next-to-no incentive to alter the status quo. Indeed, they have every incentive to freeze it in place. The security practitioners continue to display a keen interest in developing and testing new technologies of control and repression, thereby strengthening the IDF.
From the perspective of industry, Palestine then becomes more a source of profit than anything linked to claims to land. In the process, the source of profit is itself made abstract – it is deracinated. The security fairs play a central role in erasing the encrustations of time and place from Israeli war technologies, making them legible to foreign purchasers. This neutralization is necessary to ensure flexibility and relevance, enabling the technology to effectively travel to other places and other missions, other sites of control and confrontation. Through this process, Israel both pretties up and universalizes its own way of war under the anodyne and yet so familiar banner of battle proven.