Honduras is a key nation in the US-backed “war on drugs”. I visited there to report on what this meant for civilians, many of whom flee in fear to the US.
Here’s my story in the new US outlet, Filter, covering drugs domestically and globally, on the grin reality in Honduras and why so many of its citizens are leaving in despair:
My 4000-word investigation in US magazine The Nation is on Afghanistan and the rush to exploit its natural resources. Based on explosive, leaked documents, the story uncovers how the Trump administration is pressuring the Kabul government to issue contracts to the highest bidder. Increased violence against civilians is assured. Foreign companies, Blackwater founder Erik Prince and others are all in the mix. Within hours of this report being published, I was reliably told that it was being read at the highest levels of the US embassy in Kabul and Afghanistan’s National Security Council.
Here’s my latest story in PDF form: Peace in Afghanistan? Maybe—but a Minerals Rush Is Already Underway | The Nation
My story in US publication Foreign Policy:
The founder of the military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, has a new project. He’s aiming to raise $500 million to invest in the discovery, exploitation, and delivery of resources required to produce electric car batteries. Minerals such as cobalt, lithium, and copper are mostly found in conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan.
Speaking recently to CNBC, Prince said that he aimed to end cobalt’s status as a “conflict mineral” in Congo, and his plans included regular jobs and incomes for artisanal miners who toil in in horrific conditions, in “loincloth,” according to Prince. The Congolese Chamber of Mines estimated in 2015 that there may be 2 million artisanal miners in the country digging for gold, diamonds, and minerals such as cobalt. Prince told CNBC that he wanted to create an “ethical mine” so businesses invested in his project could trace the source of the cobalt and know that it was coming from a location without any abuses. Approximately 67 percent of global mined cobalt in 2017 came from Congo.
Corporations such as Apple, the electric car company Tesla, Volkswagen, Samsung, General Motors, and Renault have all pledged to source cobalt from mines in Congo and elsewhere that don’t use child labor, but human rights groups have challenged the feasibility of this project.
It’s an ambitious goal, because Congo has a long history of atrocious mining conditions, including for children as young as 6. In 2018, CNN found that it was still common in Congo to find minors toiling in cobalt mines. Despite companies such as Glencore claiming that it doesn’t use materials from informal cobalt mines, the broadcaster discovered that, “dealers at markets in the DRC were filmed buying cobalt without verifying its source and mining method. They then send it for processing where it is mixed with cobalt from other mines before ending up in batteries that power devices [such as cell phones and car batteries] around the world.”
This is the industry that Prince is now entering, and his controversial history makes many critics cast a skeptical eye on his real agenda.
Some employees of the Prince-founded private military contractor Blackwater committed war crimes against civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. Prince has helped provide foreign troops for the army of the United Arab Emirates (whose military is today committing some of the worst abuses in Yemen) and attempted to create a private air force for the repressive government of South Sudan.
The Trump administration reportedly considered establishing a private spy network, designed by Prince and convicted Iran-Contra scandal participant Oliver North, to circumvent the so-called deep state that U.S. President Donald Trump fears is out to get him. Prince is a staunch Republican Party supporter, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s education secretary. He’s facing scrutiny by Robert Mueller’s investigative team into questionable meetings in the Seychelles in January 2017, just before Trump’s inauguration, with the Russians and the UAE to reportedly discuss a back channel between Moscow and Washington.
Prince claims his trip to the Seychelles was for business purposes, that it had no connection to Trump, and that his meeting with the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin was “incidental.”
Prince is currently the head of a Hong Kong-based company, Frontier Services Group, a logistics, aviation, and security company whose primary investors include the Chinese government-owned Citic Group. Frontier focuses on protecting Chinese enterprises in Africa and Asia when working in the most inhospitable places on earth. It has invested in a copper mine in Congo, won a security contract in war-torn southern Somalia, and invested in a bauxite mine in Guinea.
Prince told Foreign Policy in an email that his plans to source cobalt will involve using “geo science expertise and certainly look to other regions of Africa, south America and East Asia to diversify the supply base of key minerals.” He said that 15 percent of cobalt in the Congo is extracted by artisanal miners and his “strategy includes professionalizing and enhancing those assets and making them compliant. We would also apply new technology to the millions of tons of tailings already existing to further extract copper and cobalt in an efficient and environmentally acceptable manner.” Prince said that he has not discussed his plans with the Trump administration.
China is a key transit point for cobalt, because Chinese companies dominate the supply chain, placing Prince in prime position to capitalize, given his deep ties to Beijing. Many Chinese firms have also been found to buy cobalt mined by children in Congo. Prince told FP that although China already produces around 50 percent of the world’s electric cars, Frontier is not expected to participate in this initiative and instead remains focused on logistics and transportation support, not resource and mining development. Prince said that he anticipates a “geographically diverse set of investors joining us.”
It will be difficult for any company to ethically mine cobalt, copper, and other resources in a nation such as Congo that has a history of mass violence, corruption, and inequality fueled by its rich minerals. Indeed, the Trump administration already sanctioned a wealthy Israeli businessman, Dan Gertler, in 2017 for allegedly corrupt behavior around the sale of Congolese oil and mineral rights. Lobbyists in Washington have been busy over the last few years persuading politicians to ease sanctions against Congo for its flagrant corruption and human rights abuses. The recent election there may only worsen the instability, with massive fraud credibly alleged against the declared winner.
But these resources also exist in Afghanistan, where Washington already has a large and longstanding military footprint. Prince is never hesitant to advocate what most observers regard as mercenaries. Indeed, he recently suggested that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria should be replaced by private contractors and has stated publicly that he believes in privatizing the entire conflict in Afghanistan. He argues that he can engineer victory against the Taliban with a relatively small number of contractors. He toldCNBC earlier this month that China was worried the United States would “abandon” Afghanistan and terrorism would increase as a result.
This is the stated reason given by hawks in Washington and Europe to support an indefinite occupation of the country regardless of the civilian toll. Trump has pledged to withdraw around half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in the country. He eventually wants to remove all of them.
The Blackwater founder is also determined to exploit the country’s largely untapped resources. Prince has met with senior Afghan officials and ministers, opened a Kabul office for Frontier Services Group, and is aiming to build alliances with tribal elders in areas where minerals have been found. (Prince said that his plans to extract resources in Afghanistan have no connection to establishing an electric car battery fund.)
Prince’s record in conflict zones provides little reason to believe he has either the inclination or ability to mitigate violence in Congo or Afghanistan.
Electric cars may well help the world lessen its carbon footprint, but this benefit seems negligible if thousands of the world’s poorest people will suffer to soothe the consciences of Westerners who want to go green.
Prince is just one player in the global rush to secure valuable minerals in the production of cell phones, electric car batteries, tablets, laptops, and other modern inventions, but he has the potential to deepen the instability that’s an inevitable part of the resource curse in distressed nations.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times andThe Guardian. He is the author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and a forthcoming book on the global war on drugs. @antloewenstein
My interview with the US radio program, By Any Means Necessary, based on my recent investigation in the New York Review of Books on Israel exporting knowledge and equipment gained from years of occupying Palestine:
My report and analysis for global broadcaster TRT World on the upcoming Israeli election:
Jerusalem—During a recent conference organised by Women in Green, a Zionist, pro-settler group dedicated to applying Israeli sovereignty across the entire, occupied West Bank, Likud politician and Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Yoav Galant, explained what his country had to achieve.
“From the hills of Samaria, I say clearly, ‘No to a Palestinian state’,” he argued. “It’s impossible to establish more than one state west of the Jordan. This is the place of the Jewish, Zionist and democratic State of Israel.”
Other senior politicians at the event agreed including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy (and former Israeli ambassador to the United States) Michael Oren and Welfare Minister Chaim Katz.
Israel’s general election in April sets the scene for ferocious months of campaigning and yet all the major Israeli political parties agree on one thing; no end to the more than 50 years of occupying Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
The ruling Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, voted in a non-binding resolution in late 2017 to apply sovereignty over the West Bank, rendering millions of Palestinians second-class citizens in perpetuity.
The resolution barely caused a ripple because it’s become an increasingly mainstream view across the Israeli, Jewish public.
Netanyahu is embroiled in countless corruption scandals, mainly revolving around the alleged receiving of favours and gifts from wealthy patrons and friends. The Times of Israel asked in late 2018: “Is Israel about to re-elect a corrupt prime minister?”
Netanyahu remains a popular leader despite the controversies and could win the April poll (if he hasn’t resigned before due to a possible indictment in February).
How to make an occupation disappear
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Israel’s leading organisation working on refugee rights, migrant workers and human trafficking victims, tells TRT World that the most vulnerable people in Israeli society are completely ignored during the election campaign.
Although an Israeli court recently froze the imminent deportation of 312 Congolese asylum seekers back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the founders of Hotline, Public Policy Director, Sigal Rozen, says that “the media shows no interest in the issue and nor do the politicians.”
Rozen says, “we always have hope yet we are not satisfied with only hoping, so we also strive to make sure that all decision makers are aware of the reasonsthat brought the asylum seekers to Israel and their situation here.”
Many Israeli politicians are committed to removing all African refugees from the country.
To the outside world, regularly bombarded with stories about unarmed Palestinians in Gaza being shot dead by Israel or never-ending expansion of illegal, West Bank settlements, understanding the Israeli mindset can be challenging and yet certain facts are clear.
Racist incitement against Arabs and Palestinians is rife in public spaces, the press and social media. A study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2018 found that the majority of Israeli citizens agreed with the sentiment that, “most Jews are better than most non-Jews because they were born Jews”. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they were “somewhat disturbed” or “very disturbed” that half the pharmacists in Israel are Arabs.
The study was initiated after a concerning CNN poll that discovered anti-Semitic attitudes across Europe.
The Israeli occupation of Palestine is virtually invisible in the Israeli media except when Arabs are reported as a security threat. There’s only one Israeli journalist based permanently in the West Bank, Amira Hass with Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, and her readers are regularly exposed to the grim realities of life under occupation.
What’s mostly ignored in the international press, at least in the corporate media, is what Israel has allowed festering in Israel and the West Bank for decades; Jewish fanaticism that advocates the ethnic cleansing and murder of Palestinians. This isn’t just a few hundred Zionist settlers but a sizeable movement with strong political support. Leading Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard recently explained the phenomenon:
“We have to face reality. We are witnessing the flourishing of a Jewish Ku Klux Klan movement. Like its American counterpart, the Jewish version also drinks from the polluted springs of religious fanaticism and separatism, only replacing the Christian iconography with its Jewish equivalent. Like white racism’s modus operandi, this Jewish racism is also based on fearmongering and violence against its equivalent of Blacks — the Palestinians.”
How is this connected to the April election? It explains the social and political milieu in which the Israeli public lives on a daily basis. Settlers are routinely treated respectfully in the Israeli media instead of as illegal occupiers. It’s therefore unsurprising that no major political party has any interest or desire to end the occupation. Over decades, this perspective has found innumerable advocates to defend, ignore or support Israeli, settler actions.
Yes, there are many Israeli Jews who are appalled by the violence, but they have little or no political power. Instead, the international community has largely turned a blind eye to Israel’s descent into a proud ethnostate.
Now, with Donald Trump as US President, the European Union mostly toothless when facing the Israeli state and the Arab world increasingly turning towards Israel to form an anti-Iran alliance, the Jewish state has no limits on what it can achieve in its territory.
Netanyahu has expanded the defence, and intelligence industries and the country now sells equipment and weapons to some of the most brutal regimes on the planet.
The elephant in the room
Consider the leading Israeli political candidates in the April poll. Yair Lapid is a former journalist who proudly talks about building a high wall between Israelis and Palestinians to “get them [Palestinians] out of our sight.”
Former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz, wants to keep some illegal settlements in any peace agreement. Labour leader Avi Gabbay has told supporters that the “Arabs have to be afraid of us”. Pro-settler politician Naftali Bennett has spent years explaining his satisfaction in killing Palestinians.
Any Israeli politician expressing a desire for a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank has no chance of electoral success (and the party popular with Arabs, the Joint List, has an uncertain future).
This leaves the forthcoming election dealing with many other issues except the one that arguably affects Israelis and Palestinians more than any other; the occupation.
The Jerusalem-based, Israeli writer and activist Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), tells TRT World that, “what people abroad associate with the big issue here, occupation and the peace process, is a non-issue to the Israeli electorate, who feel no need, urgency or pressure from any quarter to do anything. ‘Security’ remains an issue but it is boiled down to Hamas, and Iran and there is no real difference among parties – Labour leader Avi Gabbay says Netanyahu isn’t strong enough on Gaza – or public interest that would make that an electoral issue.”
The only alternative, Halper argues, is an “extra-parliamentary one, to work on establishing a single democratic state between the River and the Sea to replace the single apartheid regime we have today.”
Halper is involved in building a coalition with Palestinians and critical, Israeli Jews to establish a Palestinian-Israeli movement called The One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC).
This plan, Halper tells TRT World, would lead to a “democracy offering equal rights to everyone, in which the country becomes genuinely whole – people live wherever they want, one common citizenship and parliament, the return of the [Palestinian] refugees, individual, equal rights, collective rights protecting all the country’s groups and peoples and the building of a new, shared civil society.”
This vision is necessary, but it’s still a long way off. In the meantime, the April election will feature a cast of Israeli characters who will try to outdo each other in expressing contempt for the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are mostly invisible in the Israeli election campaign coverage, their plight and future deemed unimportant by the Israeli mainstream media.
Nonetheless, Palestinian voices are speaking out, some calling for a massive civil rights movement and demand for the right of return, but the Israeli elites don’t want to hear it.
The Trump administration’s long-delayed “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians is destined to continue Washington’s role as Israel’s lawyerrather than an honest broker between the two sides.
What the Israeli election reveals most of all is what decades of occupation can achieve with global acquiesce, rendering powerless the invisible millions of Palestinians over whom you have complete control.
On the first day of the year in Nauru, Iranian refugee Bita* sent a damning letter to the Australian Border Force (ABF) accusing it of “barbarism”. She had been refused resettlement in the United States and demanded an end to being held indefinitely on the Pacific island.
“I’m fed up and I’m not going to beg for settlement in Australia or reunion with my brother [in Australia] any more,” she wrote to the ABF. “Please let me know when would you let me seek asylum in another country which cares about humanitarian [sic].”
The ABF is the government agency responsible for onshore and offshore border control.
Bita, a 30-year-old woman from an Arab minority in Iran, asked the agency why it refused to treat her depression, anxiety attacks, hand pains and sciatica. Was this a way of abusing her, she wondered? “If so, please let me know when you are planning to stop harming and punishing me,” she wrote.
Bita has sent a stream of increasingly anguished correspondence to the ABF for years, pleading for intervention. Medical specialists on Nauru have acknowledged her long mental decline. “There is very little life in her,” one International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) counsellor reported.
Bita was transferred to Nauru in 2014 after fleeing Iran due to state and family violence and travelling by boat from Indonesia to Australia. After more than five years in detention she lives without hope of immediate resettlement.
Testimonies of refugee women on Nauru show an acute situation of untreated illnesses, sexual abuse and degradation.
“To what scripture have you taken oath, that I was bleeding from a dog attack, yet like a bloodthirsty monster you were smelling my blood?” wrote Iranian refugee Sahar* to IHMS this year. “You kept telling me my wounds were not serious … Your oath is to the devil, not to God.”
In 2017 Sahar was attacked by a dog in a Nauruan detention camp. After being bitten, her anxiety worsened. When a recent discussion with IHMS on not being given necessary treatment became heated, she threw a cup of boiling water onto her face and banged her head into a wall. After the incident, doctors decided to give her medication every third day.
“I don’t forgive nor forget,” she wrote to IHMS in early 2019. “I instead will speak up for justice.”
The Morrison government warns resettling refugees from Nauru to New Zealand would risk restarting the people-smuggling trade to Australia. Labor remains committed to offshore processing.
Medecins Sans Frontieres’ clinical psychologist Dr Christine Rufener, who worked with MSF on Nauru until it was expelled last October, says75 per cent of patients had experienced trauma before arriving on Nauru, “so they were already vulnerable. Essentially, a life under indefinite detention almost inherently includes exposure to multiple risk factors for severe, chronic mental illnesses.”
More than 3000 asylum seekers have been sent to Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea since 2012, in the latest iteration of Australia’s offshore processing policy. Long before September 11, 2001, the government used privatised detention facilities to house asylum seekers.
Today about 480 asylum seekers are left on Nauru, including seven children, and roughly 624 refugees are on Manus Island.
Setareh*, Sahar’s sister, is also on Nauru and suffers abdominal pain. “Stomach-related problems started in early 2017 after she took four to five spoons of chilli in reported suicidal attempt,” IHMS psychiatrist Lina Klansek found in December 2018. Setareh “has a history of previous self-harm behaviour such as banging the wall with the head, stabbing with the needle and admits to self-immolate [sic] a day before assessment with a burning spoon”. Setareh says she experienced sexual harassment on Nauru in 2014 and 2017.
In a letter this year to the ABF, Setareh wrote that “through your tax payers money you kept us here for almost 6 years now”. She accused the ABF of deliberately hiding parts of her medical records. “All the wounds I have endured for the last 6 years never would heal even [with] settlement in Australia. Cannot be a compensation for all the hardship I have gone through.”
“Many women have urinated in a bottle or bucket rather than risk the sexual advances and attacks from men by going to the toilet during the night,” Dr Barri Phatarfod, founder and president of Doctors for Refugees, said. “Many children consequently still wet the bed at night well into their teens.”
In response to a series of questions regarding the women in this story, a spokesman for the ABF refused to provide any answers and directed The Age and Sydney Morning Herald to the ABF website.
In a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, 56-year-old, Iranian asylum seeker Malikeh, who self-harmed before Christmas, wrote: “I understand that the Christian calendar sees Christmas as a time of joy, love and celebration but this has nothing to do with the punishment of refugees like myself.”
She concluded her letter with an anguished question directed to the Prime Minister. “I would like to know what my continued imprisonment has to do with values and spirit of Christianity?”
Bita, Sahar, Setareh and Malikeh are still on a waiting list for a caseworker and legal help with Australian-based advocacy organisations.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Saba Vasefi is a Sydney-based, award-winning artist, journalist, filmmaker and poet.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent, investigative journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe.
My first essay for The New York Review of Books:
Speaking recently to an audience in Tel Aviv via satellite from Moscow soon after the of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden alleged that Saudi Arabia had Israeli-made spyware to track Khashoggi’s movements before his death. Snowden said that the Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO Group Technologies had developed software known as Pegasus that was sold to the Saudis and allowed Khashoggi to be monitored by the smartphone of one of his contacts, another Saudi critic, based in Canada.
This dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, in Israel in late 2018 alleging that the NSO Group had broken international law by selling its technology to oppressive regimes. “NSO should be held accountable in order to protect the lives of political dissidents, journalists, and human rights activists,” said his Jerusalem-based lawyer, Alaa Mahajna. The NSO Group is by an American company, Francisco Partners, and both Goldman Sachs and Blackstone are invested in it. The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a longtime of the Saudis, has Snowden’s allegations about the Israeli company’s dealings with the Kingdom.
This is just one of the more sinister examples of a lucrative business. , Israel recently Saudi Arabia $250 million-worth of sophisticated spying equipment, and Ha’aretz also reported that the Kingdom was offered the NSO Group’s phone-hacking software shortly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began purging opponents in 2017. Israel and Saudi Arabia both view Iran as a unique threat that justifies their cooperation.
Besides spyware and cyber tools, Israel has developed a growing industry based around surveillance including espionage, psychological operations, and disinformation. One of these corporations, Black Cube, a private intelligence agency with links to the Israeli government (two former heads of the Mossad have sat on its international advisory board), has recently gained notoriety—most notably for spying on women who’d accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. News reports have also identified the firm’s work on behalf of ’s authoritarian government, as well as an alleged “” campaigns against tied to the Iran nuclear deal, and against an anti-corruption investigator in . Black Cube and other agencies like it have close ties to the Israeli state because they hire many former intelligence personnel.
Over more than half a century of occupation, Israel has mastered the arts of monitoring and surveilling millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel itself. Israel is now this knowledge to governments that admire the country’s ability to suppress and manage resistance. Israel’s occupation has thus gone global. The country’s defense exports a record $9.2 billion in 2017, 40 percent higher than in 2016 (in a global arms market that recorded its in 2017 at $398.2 billion). The majority of these sales were in Asia and the Pacific region. Military hardware, such as missiles and aerial defenses, was the largest sector at 31 percent, while intel, cyber, and information systems comprised 5 percent. Israel’s industry is supported by lavish domestic spending: in 2016, defense expenditure represented 5.8 percent of the . By comparison, in 2017, the American defense sector absorbed .
Despite their occasional diplomatic gestures opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, many nations have become willing customers of Israeli cyber-weapons and intelligence know-how. The Mexican government has also used NSO Group tools, in at least one case, according to , to attempt to track colleagues of an investigative reporter who was murdered; human rights lawyers and anti-corruption activists have also been targeted. Amnesty International has accused the NSO Group of on one of its employees. A Canadian research group, the Citizen Lab, that infected phones have shown up in Bahrain, Brazil, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, the US, and elsewhere.
During the recent Gaza protests, a former chief executive of the company that built the fence surrounding parts of the Gaza Strip, Saar Korush of Magal Security Systems, told that Gaza was a showroom for his “smart fence” because customers liked that it was battle-tested and proven to keep Palestinians out of Israel. Magal is among the companies to build President Trump’s border wall with Mexico (along with anIsraeli company) and has built an international business based on its ability to stop “,” a word commonly used in Israel for refugees. Another new weapon that was used on the Israel/Gaza fence was the “Sea of Tears,” a drone that tear-gas canisters on protesters. According to the Israeli website Ynet, its maker soon received of orders for these drones. Germany is already Israeli drones, while the EU agency Frontex is testing similar drones to surveil European borders in an effort to prevent the entry of migrants and refugees.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has helped to transform his country during his nearly ten years in power into a technological powerhouse that proudly promotes its tools of occupation to a global and market. to fellow lawmakers in Israel in November, Netanyahu said that “power is the most important [component] of foreign policy. ‘Occupation’ is bull. There are countries that have conquered and replaced entire populations and the world keeps silent. Strength is the key, it makes all the difference in our policy toward the Arab world.” He concluded that any peace deal with the Palestinians could only come with “common interests which are based on technological strength.”
In 2017, Israel for granting export licenses to a range of intelligence, surveillance, and weapons manufacturers, though it claims to consider the human rights implications when doing so. But this stretches credibility when Israel has sold weapons just in the last years to countries that commit grievous abuses such as the , , and . Netanyahu has with Chadian dictator Idriss Déby, and may be the Bahraini regime and Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
The Israeli Defense Ministry releases barely any information about how or why its exports are granted. Ha’aretz that espionage equipment had been sold to numerous undemocratic regimes, including Bangladesh, Angola, Bahrain, Nigeria, UAE, Vietnam, and others. In some cases, these governments and others have used the systems to target dissidents and LGBTQ citizens, and even to concoct false charges of blasphemy. In early 2019, Ha’aretz also revealed the existence of another Israeli cybersecurity firm, named Candiru, which markets hacking tools and relies heavily on recruiting military veterans from the elite signals intelligence Unit 8200.
Since the tech bubble burst in 2000, the Israeli government has pushed local companies to invest in the security and intelligence industries. The result, according to a Privacy International report in 2016, was that of the 528 companies worldwide that worked in this field, twenty-seven were based in Israel—making it the country with by far the highest per capita rate of surveillance and intelligence firms in the world. And in 2016, Ha’aretz reported, a full 20 percent of global investments in the sector were in Israeli start-ups.
That same year, human rights lawyer Eitay Mack, one of the few prominent Israelis Israel’s arms export policy, and Tamar Zandberg, chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, went to Israel’s High Court of Justice in an effort to win a suspension of NSO Group’s export license. The government demanded that the process was held in camera and the court’s ruling was not released to the public. Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut explained that “our economy, as it happens, rests not a little on that export.”
Indeed, in 2017, Israel was to the US in raising close to $1 billion in venture capital and private equity for cybersecurity companies. Information released last year by the New York-based data firm CB Insights showed that Israel was the of cybersecurity deals in the world after the US. Although the US led by a large margin, with a 69 percent of global market share, Israel’s 7 percent placed it ahead of the UK.
The occupation has thus fueled Israel’s industrial and defense policy-making through an that has benefited companies that build, operate, and manage the settlement enterprise. But for , author of The Privatization of Israeli Security (2017) and a world expert on the Israeli arms trade, the occupation is becoming less an asset than a liability. Many Israeli arms sellers, he told me, are “expressing their frustration that customers are not excited about Israeli products because they fail at stopping Palestinian resistance. Russia held an arms fair selling ‘’ gear from the Syria war and has managed to increase sales to Turkey and India, both very important markets for Israeli companies. So why should arms importers consider Israeli arms special?”
Hever acknowledges that “authoritarian regimes definitely still want to learn how Israel manages and controls the Palestinians, but the more they learn, the more they realize that Israel does not actually control the Palestinians very effectively. Support for Israel from right-wing groups and politicians around the world is still strong—Brazil’s new president, , being a particularly depressing example—but I think there is more focus on the racism, racial profiling and nationalism and less and less admiration for the ‘strongest military in the world.’” He even questions the Israeli government narrative about the success of the weapons and intelligence sector and argues that the industry is in decline because it is so dependent on short-term, ad-hoc alliances.
Apartheid South Africa and its decline are a warning from history that Israel would be unwise to ignore. At its height, South Africa was one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, behind Brazil and Israel, and this was achieved through enormous state subsidies. Despite a UN arms embargo, the South African regime spent 28 percent of the state’s budget on its defense industry in the late 1980s, according to a recent book, Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, by Hennie van Vuuren, the director of the South African nonprofit watchdog organization Open Secrets. An economy built on military know-how and expertise in techniques of internal repression might seem a source of indomitable strength, but Apartheid was finished less than five years later.
Today, growing numbers of American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel, rejecting its government’s embrace of ethno-nationalism and instead a one-state solution. For the time being, Israel looks set to remain a major global player in the manufacture and sales of weapons systems and surveillance equipment and expertise—that is now one of the main ways the country defines itself internationally. But international opposition is , thanks largely to calls by the (BDS) movement for a on Israel and its defense industry. Already, one of the country’s biggest defense companies, Elbit Systems, has over its activities around the world. Just days ago, the banking giant HSBC announced it was divesting from Elbit Systems. High-profile campaigns like this will surely begin to change the calculus about the economic and moral costs of the occupation—all the more so if Israel continues on its present political path toward the de facto annexation of Palestine.
This week the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia released a stunning report on Australian companies behaving badly around the world.
One focus is in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, where my book and film on disaster capitalism examines Rio Tinto’s destructive mining practices, and I’m honoured to have some contributed some photos to the report.