Corporate murder: the Australian companies behind Gaza’s destruction

Jan 11, 2024
Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023.

The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organisation of some note, recently released a list of companies profiting from Israel’s current campaign in Gaza, including its operations in the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria between October and December 2023. The list of nasty participants is impressive and familiar.

There is, for instance, the UK company BAE Systems, which manufactures the M109 howitzer, a killing favourite of the Israeli Defence Forces. The 155mm mobile artillery system also uses shells with white phosphorus bombs, the use of which is forbidden in densely populated civilian areas. Boeing, the world’s fifth largest weapons manufacturer, is responsible for producing F-15 fighter jets and the Apache AH-64 attack helicopter, weaponry that is being extensively used by the IDF in its operations in Gaza and Lebanon.

The arc of complicity, however, does not stop there. The gruesomely impressive list does not include Australian companies. In time, it should. The good Quakers will find various instances where Israel’s war machine has benefited from Australian defence manufacturers and suppliers. Much of this was encouraged by the creation of the hardly mentioned Australia-Israel Defence Industry Cooperation Joint Working Group in October 2017. It was established, in the words of a Defence media release, “to strengthen ties between Australia and Israel, explore defence industry and innovation opportunities, identify export opportunities, and support our industries to cooperate in the development of innovative technologies for shared capability challenges.”

In February 2018, for instance, the Israel-based Rafael Advanced Defence Systems signed a contract with Australia’s Bisalloy Steels worth $900,000. It heralded, according to the Australian company, “the appointment of Bisalloy to Rafael’s global supply chain”. Rafael Australia’s general manager, Ido Spitzer, was particularly satisfied with the armour steel range provided by the Australian company, describing it as “highly impressive”.

In August that same year, then Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, was beside himself with excitement in launching Varley Rafael Australia (VRA), a joint venture between the Australian defence engineering company Varley Group and Rafael, responsible for such “leading weapons systems” as “the Spike LR2 anti-tank guided missile.” The arrangement would “bring IP, know-how and advanced manufacturing techniques to Australia to produce capability for use by the ADF with the potential to export to our friends and allies”.

In March 2019, Janes reported that Australia’s Electro Optic Systems (EOS) and Israel’s Elbit Systems (most known for its military drones) had “developed a modular medium-calibre turret that can be configured for a range of platforms, including lightweight reconnaissance and heavy fighting vehicles.” In the boastful words of EOS Group CEO Ben Greene, “We’ve taken the best from the two companies and put them into one turret.” Palestinians could only weep at such progress.

This lengthy, and deep association between Australian companies and Israel’s military efforts hardly stops there. Australia has permitted itself to become a prostituting playground for such weapons behemoths as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon [RTX], entities which have developed a rather unhealthy presence in the country even as they prove invaluable to the predation on Gaza. The Albanese government even went so far as to ink a missile contract with RTX “to build highly advanced defense manufacturing capabilities in Australia to bulk up the nation’s ability to make and stockpile weapons at home”.

The military-university-industrial complex is also burgeoning in the country, further implicating Australian entities in the liquidation of Gaza. Elbit Systems of Australia (ELSA), a branch of Israel’s largest drone manufacturer whose weapons have been tested on civilians in the Gaza Strip, previously boasted two Melbourne-based clients: the state government of Victoria, which supplied funding via Invest Victoria, and RMIT University’s Centre for Industrial AI Research and Innovation. The two-year partnership with ELSA’s Centre of Excellence was meant to, according to ELSA’s then managing director and retired Major General Paul McLachlan, “research how to use drones to count the number of people in designated evacuation zones, then to co-ordinate and communicate the most efficient evacuation routes to everyone in the zone, as well as monitoring the area to ensure that everyone has been accounted for.” Even the faux humanitarianism of such a description leaves a terrifying chill.

Following October 7 and a series of heated protests, RMIT released a statement claiming that it did “not design, develop or manufacture weapons or munitions in the university or as part of any partnership. With regard to Elbit Systems, RMIT does not have a partnership with Elbit Systems or any of their subsidiaries, including Elbit Systems of Australia (ELSA).” The obvious question here is: how far did the research projects on drones go before the arrangements were scrapped, if at all? The blood, quite literally, is in the detail.

Other universities are similarly knee-deep in projects that involve companies thrilled to be profiting from their Israeli connections. The University of Sydney has links with Thales and RTX; University of Melbourne with Lockheed Martin and Leonardo; the University of Adelaide, military heavy with BAE, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, RTX and Thales. Ditto the University of New South Wales.

Support roles, thereby rendering Australian companies complicit, is an important feature here. While such corporations are not primarily responsible for the manufacture of weapon systems such as the F-35, they can still aid in sustaining the industry responsible for the global fleet. According to the Australian Department of Defence, “more than 70 Australian companies have directly shared more than $4.13 billion in global F-35 production and sustainment contracts.”

Keeping up appearances, the Australian government claims that all export permit decisions “must assess any relevant human rights risks and Australia’s compliance with its international obligations”. Were Defence to identify an export that “might be used to facilitate human rights abuses, a permit would be refused.” This would surely raise problems regarding export permits to Israel and its combat operations against Palestinians. Yet Canberra has approved 322 defence exports to Israel over the past six years. In 2022, it approved 49 permits for Israeli-bound exports; in the first three months of 2023, the number was 23.

In a November 15 question without notice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, representing Defence Minister Richard Marles in the Senate, Greens Senator David Shoebridge inquired whether Australian companies, seeing as they were involved in the F-35 production and sustainment process, might also be supplying spare parts to Israeli F-35 fighters.

“There’s been a lot of disinformation on social media about what Australia is doing,” came Wong’s cranky response. “I am advised that Australia has not supplied weapons to Israel since the Hamas-Israel conflict began and I am advised that has been the case for at least five years.” She also insisted that Australia had played no role in “the military conduct in Gaza.”

This dubious, underdressed answer, which dodged the question specific to the F-35, also failed to acknowledge the grant of at least 322 defence export permits to Israel over six years.

Thankfully, important proceedings were initiated that same month by an umbrella grouping of Palestinian organisations Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian centre for Human Rights (PCHR), along with the Australian centre for International Justice, to obtain information on Australia’s arms export regime pertaining to Israel since October 7, 2023.

The action, launched in the Federal Court of Australia, is intended to cast some light on the arms exports permits being granted by the Australian Defence Minister to Israel since the initial Hamas attacks. Only then can we get a better sense of Australia’s complicity in the genocidal apocalypse currently unfolding in Gaza.

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