IDF on warship 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Breaking an all-time record, the Defense Ministry announced Monday that Israeli foreign defense sales reached just over $4.4 billion in 2006, placing Israeli industries among the top five defense exporters in the world, just behind the United States and England.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Ben-Hanan, head of SIBAT - the Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Department - told The Jerusalem Post that more than 75 percent of Israeli defense industry sales were to foreign militaries, while the rest was to the IDF.
"This is a great achievement," Ben-Hanan said. "The world has put its faith in our industries through the deals it has signed with Israeli companies." While Israel's dependence on defense exports was lucrative, Ben-Hanan warned that there was also a danger involved for the Israeli economy. "If there is a political crisis or a tsunami somewhere in the world, it would certainly influence Israeli defense sales," he said.
India was Israel's biggest customer, Ben-Hanan said, with purchases reaching $1.5 billion.
Another $1 billion in defense goods was sold to the US. In 1990, Ben-Hanan said, Israeli exports to the US stood at $470 million, and in 1999 stood at $300 million. The largest sale was by the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) to India for the Barak Naval anti-missile defense system, valued at some $450 million.
Defense Ministry Dir.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi praised the SIBAT's achievements, claiming that the Israeli defense industries were an integral part of the success of the Israeli economy.
Before this past year, Israel's high was $4 billion in defense exports in 2002. Ben-Hanan said that the achievement was made possible due to the intense marketing done by the companies, as well as the logistical support provided by SIBAT.
Another milestone was in 2000 when the big Israeli defense companies - IAI, Elbit Systems and the Rafael Armament Development Authority - took over US-based companies.
Ben-Hanan said that he was not concerned that US entry into the Indian market would take away from Israeli defense sales.
"America sells fighter jets, tanks and helicopters, and we do not compete with them," he said, predicting that American entry into the market could even add to Israeli sales. "We can, for example, sell the necessary accompanying systems that they will need alongside the larger US platforms."
Ben-Hanan said he hoped that the European market - which made up $800 million in contracts - would increase in the coming years. "We need to create partnerships with European countries, which the Israeli defense industries could use to market their products."