IN EARLY April, the Defense Ministry published last year’s figures for weapon sales, which totaled $5.7 billion, almost the same as in 2014. This keeps Israel among the top 10 military exporters in the world even though arms sales comprise just six percent of its annual exports of goods and services.
Nearly 40 percent of annual weapons exports are to Asia, in particular India, which is Israel’s second-largest single market after the US.
Defense Ministry officials hope, however, that after the two years of relative stagnation in weapons sales, the figures will rise in 2016. In 2012 sales reached $7.4 billion.
This hope is based on two recent major developments in India and Poland.
Indian media recently reported that ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s planned first visit to Israel later this year, New Delhi is close to concluding three major deals with Israel, worth around $3 billion.
These include joint development of a medium- range surface-to-air missile system for the Indian Army; the acquisition of 164 Litening-4 laser-designation pods for Indian Air Force fighters such as the Soviet-built Sukhoi Su-30 and the Anglo-French Jaguar, as well as 250 advanced Spice precision stand-off bombs, capable of taking out fortified enemy underground command centers, and 321 Spike anti-tank guided missile systems and 8,356 missiles.
The same day the Defense Ministry announced the 2015 sales figures, Poland’s Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz visited Israel and met his counterpart Moshe Ya’alon. It was a brief one-day visit with one main purpose – to conclude a $1 billion weapons deal.
The 67-year-old Polish minister, who has been in office just five months, is a controversial right-wing political figure.
With the collapse of Communism in 1990, Macierewicz was elected to the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament. He has since served in various capacities in the Polish establishment, including as interior minister; heading the military counter-intelligence agency, and creating various political parties and groups with names such as “Polish Action,” the “National Catholic Movement” and the “League of Polish Families.”
It can be discerned from the above that he is an anti-Russian Polish nationalist, radical right-winger and a pious Catholic.
Born to a family of anti-Communist intellectuals, his father, a chemist by profession, fought during World War II in the anti-Nazi and anti-Communist Home Army (Armija Krayova) resistance movement. In 1949, when Macierewicz was one year old, his father was murdered by the security services of the Polish communist government.
The son walked in his father’s political footsteps and became an ardent anti-communist.
He was expelled from high school and universities and, in 1980, joined the Solidarity movement. He was harassed, occasionally jailed, escaped from prison and went into hiding for three years.
A few years after Poland turned democratic in the 90s, Solidarity spilt into two wings. One is center-left of center and concentrates around the Civic Platform (PO) Party holding liberal beliefs in line with Western values. The other is the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) Party that heads the new government.
Many Polish cabinet ministers, Macierewicz included, tend to believe in conspiracy theories. Thus, shortly before arriving in Israel, he told parliament that he had ordered an investigation into the 2010 airplane crash that resulted in the deaths of then president Lech Kaczynski and dozens of top government and military officials. Like some of his cabinet colleagues, he believes it was an “act of terrorism,” hinting that the hated Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the plane shot down.
His visit should have raised special interest because of despicable anti-Semitic comments he made in 2002, during an interview with the notoriously anti-Semitic Catholic Radio Maryja station. A caller asked him what he thought about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous anti-Semitic fabrication. Acknowledging that there is doubt about the document’s authenticity, Macierewicz said he found it interesting, adding that “experience shows that there are such groups in Jewish circles.”
The Jerusalem Report asked the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv to facilitate an interview with the minister to determine whether he still believes in a “Jewish conspiracy” and, if not, if he is ready to apologize for his comments. The request was declined.
Instead, Macierewicz gave an interview to Channel One TV news in which he brushed off the question about his anti-Semitic remarks as being “taken out of context.”
As expected, the visit went smoothly and his Israeli hosts, including Defense Minister Ya’alon, didn’t dare challenge him. It has been a tendency shared by most Israeli governments to sacrifice moral issues, historic precedents and even the memory of the Holocaust on the altar of weapons sales and security considerations. Thus, Israel did very little to protest the revisionist rewriting of history in the Baltic States or in central Europe, where Nazi collaborators and Jewish murderers are worshipped as heroes just because they also happen to be anti-Communist.
The welcoming of the Polish defense minister was no exception. Defense Ministry officials had hoped the visit would wrap up the $1billion long-delayed deal to sell advanced Israeli drones to the Polish army, a NATO member.
The previous PO-led Polish government had initiated an impressive effort to modernize and upgrade the Polish armed forces and planned to purchase drones for intelligence gathering, aerial reconnaissance and assault purposes. Israel, which is a world leader in drones, was quick to respond, and the two countries began arduous negotiations hampered by internal and external obstacles, which prevented the deal from materializing.
First, the two leading Israeli manufacturers, Elbit Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), rushed to offer their products but soon were at each other’s throats. The Polish media was filled with sensational stories about the no-holds-barred competition between the two Israeli rivals and there were rumors about bribes changing hands.
At one point it became clear that the big loser would not be one of the companies, but rather Israel’s military complex and its reputation.
The Defense Ministry stepped in ‒ acting as an arbitrator ‒ and arranged a deal.
Elbit was given the go ahead to take part in the bidding while IAI was forced to pull out, but not before being promised by the ministry that it would be compensated with another deal in another country.
Still, Elbit had to overcome an even bigger obstacle ‒ US defense giant General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator drone, had also set its eyes on the lucrative contract. It took more time and another round of secret talks ‒ this time between Israel, the US and Poland ‒ to cut a deal.
It was agreed that the US administration would back off and, in return, Israel would not pursue its campaign to sell an anti-missile defense system to Warsaw.
The Israeli system is based on technology used in the Iron Dome, for short-range missiles, and David’s Sling, which can intercept rockets and cruise missiles ‒ complementary systems that were developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Raytheon in the US.
The deal is that the Polish government, instead, will procure the US Patriot anti- missile system, built by Raytheon, or Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). The contract is estimated to be worth $4 billion, including maintenance and overhaul. The three-way discussions between Poland’s PiS government, the US and Israeli authorities leave the competing French defense industry completely out in the cold.
In order to sweeten the deal, Elbit teamed up with Polish military manufacturer PGZ and will build an assembly facility in Poland and has promised extensive transfer of technology as part of the package.
If the deal indeed materializes, Elbit will supply at least 20 drone systems of its Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 models with ground stations and additional equipment.
Poland will manufacture the secret encryption and communication systems.
Poland has been considered one of Israel’s best friends in the EU and the two have very close military and intelligence cooperation.
Polish pilots have conducted joint training exercises with their Israeli counterparts, while Polish special forces have trained with Israel’s elite units.
Now, with right-wing governments in Warsaw and Jerusalem which, to a certain degree, have common ideological views, security cooperation has a good chance to improve. It is a historic irony that such a development is being led by a Polish minister who, at least in the past, said he believed in an international Jewish conspiracy.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli security commentator and co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon.’ He blogs at www.israelspy.com and tweets at yossi_melman.