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U.S. Arming of Israel: How U.S. Weapons Manufacturers Profit From Middle East Conflict

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Much has been made of the Syrian and Iranian origin of weaponry used by Hezbollah but there has been little discussion of where Israel’s weapons come from. A new report by the World Policy Institute examines how the United States provides billions of dollars of military aid to Israel each year and how their current arsenal is composed of U.S made equipment. [includes rush transcript]

Much has been made of the Syrian and Iranian origin of weaponry used by Hezbollah but there has been little discussion of where Israel’s weapons come from. A new report by the World Policy Institute examines how the United States provides billions of dollars of military aid to Israel each year and how their current arsenal is composed of U.S made equipment. The report is titled “U.S Military Assistance and Arms Transfers to Israel”.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the authors of the report joins us now, Frida Berrigan. She’s Senior Research Associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Well, tell us what are the weapons being used? Did you also look at where the weapons that Hezbollah is using comes from?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Sure. Almost all of the weapons used by Israel are from the United States. There might be a couple French fighter planes that they’re using, but its F-16s made in Fort Worth, Texas; its Apache helicopters; its Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles; it’s all from the United States. So you have this real disconnect between an overemphasis on the supply by Iran and Syria of Hezbollah’s weapons and no discussion of the fact that all of the Israeli arsenal is from the United States, and that that is in contravention to U.S. law. to the Arms Export Control Act, which says that U.S.-origin weapons are only to be used for self-defense and for internal security.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your report indicates that Israel has always been the largest recipient of military aid from the United States, but that that’s actually increased since 2001?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: We’re looking at incredible increases in U.S. military aid and weapons sales to Israel. Military aid stands at about $3 billion a year. That’s about $500 for every Israeli citizen that the United States provides on an annual basis. And then, weapons sales, most recently, since the Bush administration came into power, we’re looking at $6.3 billion worth of weaponry sold to Israel.

Israel’s relationship with the United States is unique in a number of ways. And one of those ways is that essentially the United States provides 20% of the Israeli military budget on an annual basis, and then about 70% of that money that is given from the United States, from U.S. taxpayers, to Israel is then spent on weapons from Lockheed Martin and Boeing and Raytheon. Most other countries don’t have that sort of cash relationship, where they go straight to U.S. corporations with U.S. money to buy weapons that are then used in the Occupied Territories and against Lebanon.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of leverage does the U.S. money, the U.S. aid for Israel provide?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Well, when you’re talking about 20% of the Israeli military budget, you’re talking about a huge fulcrum of leverage, right? The United States could today say, you know, “This incursion into Lebanon, the killing of civilians, the bombing in Gaza, all of this is not internal security, all of this is not self-defense, and we’re cutting it off.” And they could cut it off tomorrow. And that would essentially not only send an incredibly strong message to the Israeli military, but it would remove the tools of the occupation, the tools of the bloodshed and the suffering that’s happening in Lebanon and in Gaza.

It was interesting to sort of place the very weak statements that have come from the administration — “Oh, there should be” — you know, they have said things, like “They should practice restraint,” and stuff like that. Meanwhile, just on the 14th, the United States decided to sell $120 million worth of jet fuel to the Israeli military. The little notice that announced the sale from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said, “This fuel will be used to promote peace and security in the region.” And then, meanwhile, you have jets strafing villages, bombing civilians, taking out bridges, destroying water treatment plants. So the United States could decide and would have a very strong case and a historic precedent for deciding to cut military aid.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the precedent?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: In 1981, the last time there was a full-on invasion by the Israeli government into Lebanon, the Reagan administration cut military aid and froze weapons sales to Israel, while it did an investigation of whether or not the weapons were being used for self-defensive and internal security purposes. So for ten weeks in 1981, nothing went into Israel. Now, at the end of that ten weeks, they said, “Oh, well, you could argue ’til eternity about what constitutes defensive use of weapons.” But under the Reagan administration, while Alexander Hague was the Secretary of State, we did cut off weapons sales and military aid. And we certainly haven’t done that since. And when we look at how the conflict and the war continues to unfold with so many civilians being killed and this bare use of force and power by the Israeli military, it seems like it’s time to explore that option again.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the things that’s gotten a lot of attention in recent days have been the missiles fired by Hezbollah into Israel. But I see by your report that to some degree the Hezbollah missiles might also almost be seen as a self-defense measure, because you have here a thousand Redeye missiles that Israel has, surface-to-air missiles, 400 Stinger man-portable air defense missiles, 444 Harpoon missiles. So Israel has quite an extensive missile arsenal of its own.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right, we’re talking about one of the strongest militaries in the world going up against basically the defenseless Lebanese, and then a, you know, not very well armed Hezbollah. There was an article in the newspaper yesterday that quoted Israeli defense officials, who said, “Maybe 900 Hezbollah missiles have hit Israeli territory.” That’s 900 missiles, and probably 30 Israeli civilians have been killed. So they’re obviously not very effective weapons. They do get weapons from Syria, from Iran. They manufacture their own weapons. But —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about the New York Times quoting the Fajr-3 from Syria?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right, yeah. There was an article in the Times, I think on Monday, about Iranian missiles being used by Hezbollah, and they pulled Syria in, too, because Syria was producing an Iranian model missile and then had transferred it to Hezbollah. So, but the missiles haven’t been very effective, and they can’t — the range is between 30 and 45 miles.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about, Frida Berrigan, the U.S. government supporting the Israeli government and military. But this kind of weapons relationship also is a great boon to the U.S. weapons manufacturers. Can you talk about the relationship the U.S. has with these weapons manufacturers and name them?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Sure. Well, the largest weapons manufacturer in this country is Lockheed Martin. It’s based in Texas. And it manufactures the F-16 fighter plane, all manner of missiles. It manufactures the C-130, which is a huge transport plane. It’s the biggest weapons manufacturer in the world.

Lockheed Martin and the Israeli military recently went into business together, co-producing a version of the F-16 fighter plane called the Sufa, which means “storm” in Hebrew. It’s built partially outside of Tel Aviv, and then the final work is done in Ft. Worth, Texas. It’s a $4 billion deal with the Israeli military. For the first time, an Israeli military company is contributing in its manufacturing the avionics of the plane. So there’s this — it’s almost this supranational relationship between Lockheed Martin and the Israeli defense industry. It’s a kind of relationship that weapons corporations in this country would like to see with other countries, where they work directly with — they sort of transcend government and work directly with the manufacturers of weapons in other countries.

Another major corporation — you mentioned the missiles — is Raytheon, which is based in Massachusetts. They manufacture the Tomahawk missile, the Sidewinder, a number of other high-tech missiles that Israel has in its arsenal. These missiles have very sophisticated targeting components — heat-seeking, they’re interfaced with GPS for very targeted attacks.

Boeing is another major corporation. They manufacture all sorts of planes: the F-18 fighter plane, the F-14. So you have maybe ten weapons corporations in this country that have a stake in — essentially in Israel using its military arsenal so that it can be replenished again. And the great thing about this relationship with Israel is, Israel doesn’t have to pay for it itself. It comes directly from U.S. taxpayers in the form of foreign military financing, which is transferred to Israel, and then turns right back around and goes to Lockheed Martin or Raytheon.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And as we can see by the votes in Congress this week, both in the House and Senate, supporting the current military actions of Israel, there doesn’t seem to be much opposition in Congress to this kind of a continued arms support from the United States for Israel.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right, yeah. You have complete silence, and worse than silence from the U.S. Congress. So there’s got to be some way to go around Congress and hold the defense corporations, these military corporations, directly responsible for what their hardware and software is doing in Lebanon and Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Frida Berrigan, I want to thank you for being with us, of the World Policy Institute, just out with its report.

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