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An IDF weapons cache.(Photo by: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
Arms accountability
The Philippine Army battled Islamic State terrorists for five months, killing more than 1,200 people and leading 200,000 residents to flee.
Should Israelis have the ability to supervise and oversee the alliances and military relationships their country forges? Should they be allowed to know who the country sells weapons to, what those weapons are used for and why?

The answer should be a resounding yes, but sadly, that is not the case.

The latest example was a report in Friday’s Jerusalem Post. Military correspondent Anna Ahronheim wrote about a 10-man IDF delegation led by Col. Dan Goldfus, commander of the Nahal Brigade, which had spent two weeks training 175 Filipino elite officers at a base north of Manila.

This was despite ongoing concerns of human-rights abuses by the government of Rodrigo Duterte. Philippine Army chief Lt.-Gen. Macairog Alberto was quoted by local media as saying the counter-terrorism training was part of a program to hone and improve the anti-terror skills of its troops, necessary after the siege of Marawi on the island of Mindanao in 2017.

The Philippine Army battled Islamic State terrorists for five months, killing more than 1,200 people and leading 200,000 residents to flee. The siege reduced the city to rubble, and led the government to twice impose martial law on the island, which raised fears by human rights groups of abuses.

Duterte has said that he sees Israel as an alternative supplier of weapons. During his last visit to Israel in September, he told President Reuven Rivlin that he intends to buy military equipment exclusively from Israel because of the country’s lack of restrictions, unlike the US and others who have refused to sell arms to the Philippines due to human-rights violations.

Did Ahronheim learn about the IDF delegation to Manila from the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, led by Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis? No. It was initially revealed in the Philippine press. When Ahronheim reached out to Manelis’s office and asked for a response and explanation, he and the rest of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit refused to say anything.

This is wrong. While Israel might have legitimate reasons for sending a senior delegation to train the Philippine Army, this should not be hidden from the public. When asked about it, the IDF should respond.

Unfortunately, this is not the only case. In 2017, Israel faced accusations that it was selling millions of dollars worth of advanced weaponry to Myanmar. After a petition was filed to the High Court of Justice demanding that Israel stop, the Defense Ministry refused and instead succeeded in obtaining a closed-door hearing and getting a gag order placed on its decision.

Israel should not be hiding its military alliances and arms sales in this way. Obviously, all countries have the right to retain secrets, especially those that can harm national security, but the Jewish state is also a democracy and needs to be transparent and accountable to the people. That is how a democracy works.

Rabbi Avidan Freedman, an educator and activist against weapons exports to human-rights violators, points out that the governing export rules in Israel do not contain any mention of human rights as a consideration.

Israel, he points out, tries to claim that it does not allow exports to human-rights violators, but refuses to confirm or deny that there are exports to specific countries, instead expecting the people to simply accept the government’s claims on blind faith.

“Israelis are used to trusting the security establishment but in this case the facts on the ground simply don’t allow it,” he said. “If we want to stop our support of the world’s most brutal human-rights violators, we need to demand a law like those that exist in the United States and the European Union that sets a moral red line preventing weapons sales to these countries. And we need to demand far greater transparency.”

Freedman is right. Transparency is needed when it comes to which countries Israel sells weapons to, and who it forges defense alliances with. In addition, Israel is a country that holds itself to a high moral and ethical standard. That needs to apply here as well.
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