KELLIE TRANTER. Defence exports – what are we subsidising?

Last month Australian defence company, Electro Optic Systems (EOS), again denied its weapons system was being used in the Yemen war when photographs surfaced of four consignments of its Remote Weapons System for export in June and July to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. But what slipped through in relation to EOS is its February 2019 media release confirming its collaboration with Israeli company, Elbit Systems to develop a turret that ‘adds a next generation, medium calibre turret to the EOS family of weapon systems and has been designed to meet a rapidly emerging global market worth more than AUD$4 billion.’

To the uninitiated Elbit System, Israel’s largest privately-owned arms and security company, is a long standing target of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement because of Palestinian human rights concerns. It has resulted in divestment from global sovereign funds, banks and investment firms.

This week the Intercept reported that Elbit Systems has frequently touted a major advantage over competitors because ‘its products are “field-proven” on Palestinians.’ It further reports that ‘The company built surveillance sensors for Israel’s separation barrier through the West Bank, which has been deemed illegal under international law, as well as around the Gaza Strip and on the northern border with Lebanon and Syria.

The Government has provided more than $36 million in financial assistance to EOS. Why? What for? Would taxpayers be comfortable with its collaboration with a company that ‘produces internationally banned cluster munitions, white phosphorus bombs and most of the drones the Israeli military uses to attack Palestinian civilians.’

The Intercept report notes that ‘Elbit is also one of the main contractors on a new kind of underground wall, still under construction, around the blockaded Gaza Strip. Elbit’s drones patrol the Mediterranean Sea as part of the European Union’s bid to seal off access to migrants from North Africa, and it has provided its technologies to militaries in Australia [emphasis added], Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America.

Certainly this seems to be supported by AusTender data relating to contracts awarded to Elbit Systems Australia Pty Ltd-a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems Ltd -from 2007 to 2019.

Furthermore the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade Israel country brief states that ‘Since 2017, Australia and Israel have expanded cooperation on national security, defence and cyber security. Defence officials began annual strategic talks in 2018 and in early 2019, Australia appointed a resident Defence Attaché to the Embassy in Tel Aviv. Leveraging Australia and Israel’s respective areas of expertise, cooperation on national security continues to develop, including on aviation security with Home Affairs as the lead Australian agency. In January 2019, following a series of reciprocal visits and dialogue, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cyber security cooperation.

The BDS movement campaigns on the basis that ‘Israel maintains a regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people. This is only possible because of international support. Governments fail to hold Israel to account, while corporations and institutions across the world help Israel to oppress Palestinians.’ Is the Australian government able to provide a guarantee that taxpayers’ money has not and is not flowing into a system of military occupation and apartheid?

The stated target of making Australia the 10th-largest arms exporter in the world, and the Government’s actions to date – as far as we can unearth details from closely held information – do not seem to recognise that there are important legal restraints and human rights obligations in place which, if observed, may hamper such ambitions. And the secrecy surrounding actual weapons production and movements means that we have to trust the Government to have carried out due diligence and comprehensive risk assessments. If it claims it has, it’s done a pretty woeful job of it if the above is any example.

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer, researcher and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter


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