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Antony Loewenstein: Israel Is Testing New Weapons on Gaza as Arms Dealers Profit from Gaza War

StoryNovember 14, 2023
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Worldwide protests calling for a ceasefire are drawing attention to the role of weapons manufacturers and distributors supplying machinery to Israel’s assault on Gaza, with demonstrators blocking shipping tankers and entrances to weapons factories, and unionized workers refusing to handle military materiel over the war in Gaza. There is “a growing public awareness and anger” about the global connection between Western powers and the Israeli military industry, says Antony Loewenstein, who has investigated how Israeli weaponry and surveillance technology are used on Palestinians and exported around the world. “Israel is already, as we speak … live-testing new weapons in Gaza,” says Loewenstein. He also discusses what he characterizes as the “intelligence” and “political” failures of the October 7 Hamas incursion.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The weapons Israel is using in its assault on Gaza have become a major focus of protests calling for a ceasefire. In the United Kingdom Friday, hundreds of demonstrators blockaded the country’s biggest weapons manufacturer, BAE Systems, to call for the end of weapons sales to Israel.

PROTESTERS: BAE, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today? BAE, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as union members in Belgium and Spain have refused to handle shipments of military materiel over the war in Gaza. Here in the U.S., nine peace activists were arrested Monday for blockading entrances to the engineering complex of General Dynamics in Connecticut, where nuclear submarines are designed, and said, quote, “We are seeking to make connections between General Dynamics’ preparation for nuclear war here in New London and Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza,” they said.

Meanwhile, in Australia, hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters blocked the Israeli ZIM shipping line from docking at Sydney’s Port Botany, saying it is a major shipper of arms to Israeli forces currently waging war on Gaza. Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestine protesters took to the streets of Sydney, of Melbourne, of Brisbane to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Australia has reportedly approved over 50 military export permits to Israel this year alone, and three Palestinian human rights organizations in Australia and the U.K. have filed legal challenges to suspend them.

For more, we’re joined in Sydney, Australia, by Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist who’s investigated how Israeli weaponry and surveillance technology is used on Palestinians and exported around the world. His most recent book, published in May, The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World. He was based in East Jerusalem between 2016 and 2020.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Antony Loewenstein. If you can start off by talking about this issue of weapons, and also speak from your background as a Jewish reporter?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Thanks so much for having me, Amy and Juan.

Look, what’s been happening since October 7 with the arms to Israel, really, in some ways, fits into a long pattern. You’ve had, since that day, the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, Netherlands, many other countries rush ship huge amounts of weapons to Israel, including, I might add, F-35, which is a fighter jet that Israel has been using. And there’s a global supply chain, and many countries, including Australia, the U.S. and Netherlands, are sending parts to Israel, which almost certainly are being used over Gaza as we speak. In fact, the German arms exports to Israel have expanded 10 times in the last month since 2022, a massive increase.

And I think what you see, really, is a growing global awareness of the connection between Israeli militarism and the arms industry. That might be obvious to many on the left. That’s been the case for many, many years, long before October 7. But I think you see, in some ways, a growing public awareness and anger. The longer this conflict is going on, the death toll is so staggering. The amount of civilians being killed is so overwhelming, the footage that we’re all seeing. And understanding the connection between how that’s happening and who’s actually funding and supporting that — yes, obviously, Israel is the one that’s actually doing the killing in Gaza, but there’s a deep global connection to many Western partners that are funding, backing and arming it.

And I think, ultimately, finally, I’d say that there is a growing Jewish awareness of this. Now, obviously, I speak as someone who’s Jewish. I am Australian, but also a German citizen. And I think it’s clear that for a long time there’s been Jewish criticism of Israel, that’s for sure. But in the last years, particularly since the Gaza war in 2014, and especially this year, the devastation we’ve seen since the horrific Hamas attack on October 7, growing Jewish voices, not just in relation to protesting Israeli actions, but the arms that many Western countries are sending to Israel to fight its brutal war.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Antony, could you talk about how Israel and especially Gaza have become a laboratory for surveillance states? You write, for instance, that the system is most extreme in the city of Hebron, where facial recognition and numerous cameras are used to monitor Palestinians, including at times in their homes, instead of the extreme Jewish settlers who are routinely attacking them. Could you talk about that? And also, what’s happening in — what’s been happening in Gaza even before the war?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: One of the things I talk about a lot in my book, Juan, in The Palestine Laboratory, is how in the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem, for years, Israel regularly tests and trials new weapons. That could be drones, spyware, as you say, facial recognition technology. And Gaza, for years, was framed as the ultimate laboratory. There were 2.3 million Palestinians. There was a fence that essentially was constructed around the entire perimeter. It was almost impossible to break out. Of course, we saw that didn’t — not a reality on October 7, which I’ll get to in a minute. But, ultimately, there were huge amounts of technologies.

But one I think you find after October 7 — and I heard this both from sources that I’ve been speaking to, but also some decent reporting in the last month — is this, in some ways, was a tech lack of imagination, a tech failure, a tech lack of imagination, a tech arrogance. And what I mean by that is that Israel had believed, arrogantly, for years that it was possible to cage 2.3 million people indefinitely, and they would never break out and resist that, and even to the point where in the year before the attack, I’ve been hearing reports that Israel and the NSA, the U.S.'s key spy agency, stopped listening in to Hamas walkie-talkies, for example, just didn't listen to it, in the belief they didn’t need to. But certain Jewish communities near the Gaza border were giving information they were hearing back to Israeli military intelligence, which the government ignored. Now, on the one hand, it was an intelligence catastrophe, not unlike 9/11 in the U.S. But it was more than that. It was a political failure, Netanyahu, being the prime minister, the obvious one.

And I think what it shows is, as I talk about in the book extensively, that you can have all the repressive technology you want in the world — you can repress people, surveil them, monitor their homes, document them in any way possible — and Israel is, tragically, a global leader in this, which they then export to huge amounts of nations around the world — but, ultimately, it won’t work. It can “work,” in inverted commas, for a certain amount of time, and you can convince other countries that it does work. But when something like October 7 happens, we see the complete failure.

Having said that — and this is the important caveat to this — you know, ultimately, I think this will have no impact on Israel’s arms industry. In fact, I think it’s actually going to help. And let me briefly explain what I mean by that. The failure on October 7 was clear, but I think many countries will want to support Israel now moving forward. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Israeli arms sales have soared, massively soared. And I think what you’ll find is that like after 9/11, the U.S. defense industry massively benefited from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel is already, as we speak, as I’ve been documenting in the last month, live-testing new weapons in Gaza, showing it on social media, how they’re working. That’s not just for a domestic and international public, but also other countries that might want to buy those weapons in months and years ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — in terms of countries selling weapons to Israel, talk about the difficulty in Australia in even finding out what the government is doing in terms of its exporting of arms to Israel.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: You know, the American arms industry is hardly one you would call moral, but at least at times there’s a degree of transparency. Although I do note that after the Biden administration has sent huge amounts of weapons to Ukraine, there was a degree of listing what weapons were being sold, whereas with Israel in the last month, there’s been barely any acknowledgment on what America actually is selling to Israel, although we have certain suspicions.

Australia is an interesting case. Australia is a middle power. We are very, very madly pro-Israel, sadly, as a government. And for years and years, the Australian arms industry has been boosted by both sides of politics in my country. They’ve wanted to make it one of the top 10 or 20 arms exporters in the world, which it now is. It sold weapons to Saudi Arabia, that they used in their genocidal war against Yemen. And in the last years, a number of activists, lawyers and journalists, including me, have tried to find out some details about what exactly is going on with the Australian arms industry to Israel.

And I should say that I’m one of the co-founders of Declassified Australia, a news organization. And recently we published this amazing report which detailed how Pine Gap, which is a key U.S. intelligence asset in the center of Australia, is being used by the Americans to provide real-time intelligence to the Israelis in their war against Gaza. Now, Pine Gap has been used for decades in U.S. war making in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the idea that you have a key American intelligence asset in the center of Australia giving information to Israel, which directly implicates Australian officials and government in what Israel is doing in Gaza. And this report went viral a few weeks ago, which I think explains how there’s so much concern that the U.S.’s presence in Australia, and, therefore, assisting Israel in its war against Gaza from Australian shores, should something that concern all of us deeply.

AMY GOODMAN: Antony Loewenstein, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Antony Loewenstein is —


AMY GOODMAN: — an independent journalist who’s investigated how Israeli weaponry and surveillance technology is used on Palestinians and exported around the world, also a filmmaker and the author of many books, including his most recent, The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World. He was based in East Jerusalem between 2016 and 2020. We’ll also link to your latest piece in the New Internationalist headlined “How Palestine Became Israel’s Spyware Test-Bed.”

That does it for our show. Belated happy birthday to Ishmael Daro! Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us.

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