Exactly one year after forging its bloody path to world prominence, the Islamic State organization (ISIS) is clearly still here and likely to remain. The airborne attacks by the US and its allies on the organization's strongholds in Iraq and Syria are limited and far from weakening it enough to break up its power centers, while the West's achievements in the fighting against it are negligible.
With ISIS leading the trend, the Israeli defense companies are strutting on the catwalk with quite a bit of that insouciance reserved for experts in the field, presenting solutions for the threat of the weirdoes executing people in orange jumpsuits. One of these solutions, incidentally, is to launch suicide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at them to blow them up.
Many of those attending the world's largest air show in Le Bourget near Paris, which is starting today, are decision-makers in the West's war against ISIS and representatives of countries liable to find themselves fighting ISIS or similar organizations in the coming years.
Even if US policy on how to act against ISIS is tentative, timid, and unimaginative, It is clear that the world has already realized that the future battlefield will be far from the one portrayed in fantasy films with their robots, superheroes, and spaceships destroying the enemy with powerful lasers. That will probably happen sometime, but meanwhile the reality is tougher, requiring combat against armed, determined, hotheaded, and violent semi-military forces dug into densely populated urban areas and using civilians as human shields, a situation very reminiscent of what faces a certain small and constantly challenged Middle Eastern country.
11 Israeli companies will state exhibitions at the Paris Air Show this year, and it is clear that a considerable part of what they have developed precisely matches the needs of the future fighters against ISIS and the like: from Elbit Systems Ltd.'s (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) breakthrough protection system for passenger airliners, executive jets, and military aircraft threatened by shoulder-held missiles that can be launched by an individual terrorist capable of causing a catastrophe to loitering munitions - a euphemism for a deadly weapon combining the navigational and maneuvering capabilities of an airplane with those of a missile capable of blowing up a defined target with exemplary accuracy, even if that target is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. In such cases, the Israeli developers guarantee keeping collateral damage to a minimum, in other words minimizing the chances of innocent people being killed.
Many years of difficult warfare against terrorism have given the Israeli defense companies the ability to show many of the world's countries exactly what they need in their ammunition bunkers if and when some extremist organization rises up against them. There is a good reason why the Israeli pavilions at exhibitions like this one are becoming pilgrimage sites for representatives of foreign armies and procurement representatives of ministries of defense: they know that it is always healthy to be informed about what the IDF, one of the busiest armies in the world in asymmetric warfare against terrorist organizations while coping with dilemmas inviting international judgment in all matters pertaining to harming civilians, is using. One year after Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, in which the IDF made the most extensive use of precise and expensive weaponry in its history, it can be assumed that the interest in the products, developments, and concepts of the Israeli companies that will man the displays at the military airfield in Le Bourget will only increase.
What about the international boycott and provocations advocated by BDS, and its threat to leave Israeli goods unbought on the shelves? Don't make us laugh. When a customer from one of the world's countries needs a weapon whose capabilities have already been tested on the battlefield, it will prefer to buy it from those with the most experience.
The Ministry of Defense Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SBAT), which promotes the defense companies' interest in global markets, daily hosts procurement delegations from all over the world looking here for weapons and their accompanying systems. Delegations also come from Western European countries, because when there is something good to buy, you would be surprised how quickly the boycott clouds go away. When some army wants something, declarations by politicians are consigned to the future parliamentary history books. "The profession people who determine what is needed and prefer the Israeli system dispense with the political considerations" a senior defense official says.
While 2014 Israeli defense exports reached the "negligible" total of $5.66 billion, compared with $7.5 billion in 2012, this is not because these weapons fired, maneuvered, or exploded above the skies of surrounded and blockaded Gaza, and the world decided to "punish" the Israelis. The reason is that most armies are simply buying fewer weapons.
This year's air show in France is also taking place in the midst of the belt-tightening and selectivity trend in defense spending, mainly in European countries and the US. According to SIBAT Principal Deputy Director Itamar Graff, "When the US cuts its weapons buildup budget, that's enough to global defense procurement by 40%. When Europe is also tightening its belt, we turn sharply to Asia, the Pacific, and other areas of the world."
Israeli defense exports to Latin American countries totaled over $700 million last year, an all-time record, indicating the orientation of the companies and the Ministry of Defense export supervision mechanism, which are allowing such deals for "additional regions in the world," as Graff puts it. Incidentally, the Ministry of Defense's interest in exports by defense companies is not confined to those companies' end-of-the-year profit. The more they sell, the more they invest in R&D and comply with IDF requests for creating new inventions out of nothing, because from one campaign to the next, warfare in the region is becoming more and more difficult. If Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. didn't have the money to spend many thousands of man hours, how would it had invented Iron Dome? Or Trophy? How would Elbit System have invested in the development of a system designed to detect tunnels dug from Gaza in the direction of Israel? It is all on a purely quid pro quo basis.
Many defense amateurs in Israel like to talk about Israel's "mobility" in the global defense market, but always, especially in recent years, the world's giant weapons companies are waiting in the wings and leaping at every procurement tender almost everywhere in the world. They all want to sell, they all want to make a profit, and this is a nerve wracking situation for the Israeli companies' marketing and sales personnel. While Israeli knowhow and local manufacturing were once holy to Israeli companies, they now have no choice but to accept their customer's demands, cooperate with overseas companies, and produce large parts of the ordered product in the customer's country. The only option is to forego the deal, with the big competitor just one e-mail away.
The Israeli companies exhibiting at the show include UVision, manufacturer of smart loitering systems; Elta Systems, whose radar system detects small targets at very long range; Aeronautics, whose UAVs can stay airborne for 2-3 hours, and also return home if their mission is aborted; Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1), whose Harop loitering plane can stay airborne for six hours with a 15-kilogram warhead; Rafael, which has developed Iron Dome and advanced missiles; Elbit Systems, which has developed a system for protecting passenger jets against shoulder-held missiles; and Israel Military Industries Ltd. (IMI) subsidiary Ashot Ashkelon Industries Ltd. (TASE: ASHO), which has developed a hybrid engine that continues turning a plane's propeller after the plane's main engine has failed, thereby enabling the plane to fly for another six minutes.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 15, 2015
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