In the past decade, Israel has surged up the ranks of the world’s leading arms dealers. This past year Israel saw a record $7.5 billion in military exports, up from $5.8 billion in 2011. Israel’s own figures – which include covert trade – place it fourth worldwide, just behind the United States, Russia, and France.
Though the trade is booming, it is rightfully coming under scrutiny. A new documentary, The Lab, combines interviews from arms dealers and developers, defense experts, and industry leaders to shed light on Israel’s largest export and obstacle to peace.
The documentary argues that from its controlled lab environments – the West Bank and Gaza – in which Israeli military leaders can test new weapons and military strategies on over 4 million Palestinian guinea pigs.
Yotam Feldman, director of The Lab and a former journalist with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, is not alone in his assessment.
Jeff Halper, who is writing a book about Israel’s contributions to the growing homeland security market, said: “The occupied territories are crucial as a laboratory not just in terms of Israel’s internal security, but because they have allowed Israel to become pivotal to the global homeland security industry.
“Other states need Israel’s expertise, and that ensures its place at the table with the big players. It gives Israel international influence way out of keeping with its size. In turn, the hegemonic states exert no real pressure on Israel to give up the occupied territories because of their mutually reinforcing interests.”
The film highlights the sort of military innovations on which Israel has capitalized, such as armed drones that are now the backbone of American extra-judicial executions in the Middle East and futuristic guns that can shoot around corners, used by Angelina Jolie in the film Wanted.
But Israel exports more than new military technologies; its best sellers are theory and strategy.
Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University, said: “You only have to read the brochures published by the arms industry in Israel. It’s all in there. What they are selling is Israel’s ‘experience’ and expertise gained from the occupation and its conflicts with its neighbors.”
In an interview from The Lab, military philosopher Shimon Naveh explains how he used French philosophy to create a new strategy for modern warfare: the deconstruction of the urban battlefield. Applied in the field, his strategy is to avoid dangerous and labyrinthine alleyways, and instead surprise the enemy by drilling directly through building walls.
In another interview, Feldman talks to Tel Aviv University Professor Yitzhak Ben Israel, who has developed a mathematical formula to determine how many people need to be killed to collapse an entire organization or political system.
It’s the mash up of technology, strategy, and theory that make military exports so profitable for Israel. The only problem is, when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been transformed from a burden into a national asset, what incentive does Israel have to seriously pursue peace negotiations?