Elbit Systems, based in Haifa, is Israel’s largest privately-owned arms and ‘security’ company. Written to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, this company profile looks in detail at how Elbit’s weapons have been used in Palestine and around the world, the shareholders and people at the top of the company and the resistance to its activities.
Recent expansion; Palestine; Syrian Golan; Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran; expanding “conflict zones”; the UK; the US/Mexico border; Georgia; Turkey; India; Philippines; Spain; Switzerland; Brazil; the EU; Links with Israeli universities; Company overview and finances; Employees; Subsidiaries; Addresses; Ownership; Products; Manufacturing; Shippers; Drones; Major corporate partners; Arms fairs; Resistance; Call for increased action; Background to drone technology
Elbit is growing fast. It has absorbed dozens of companies since 2000 and now employs over 12,700 people as well as presiding over a considerable global network of over 80 subsidiaries and affiliated corporations.i
Elbit provides up to 85% of the land-based equipment procured by the Israeli militaryii and about 85% of it’s dronesiii but it is also a company with international reach – 80% of its market is outside Israel.iv The company has military contracts with governments in the US, UK and Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. It manufactures most of its equipment in Israel, the US, Europe and Brazil.
Elbit has been busy buying up competing businesses over the last eight years, purchasing Israeli arms companies NICE Systems, Tadiran, Elisra and Soltam Systems.v In August 2018, the Israeli state regulator approved Elbit’s purchase of the previously state-owned IMI Systems for $520 million.vii IMI is the sole supplier of small calibre ammunition to the Israeli military. It has a workforce of over 3,000ix people and sold $330 million of weapons to the Israeli army in 2016. Elbit sold equipment worth $610 million in the same year. The purchase of IMI, which has now been completed, will dramatically increase Elbit’s size and make it one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Israeli military, accounting for an estimated 30% of all weapons.x
The company is funding its massive global expansion by borrowing more from banks and the financial markets, perhaps hoping that the Israeli state will bail it out if things go wrong.xiii
Palestinian civil society call for action
The Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) National Committee, the committee of representatives of over 150 civil society organisations that made the call for BDS, sees Elbit as a key target and is calling for protests and divestment campaigns against the company. A statement on their website reads:
“Israel is only able to act with such impunity because governments and companies around the world cooperate with its military and with its military companies. Palestinian civil society has called for a comprehensive and immediate military embargo on Israel. BDS campaigning is starting to have an impact on Israeli military companies such as Elbit Systems.”xiv
Elbit and Israel’s drone wars
About 85% of drones used by the Israeli military are manufactured by Elbit.xv Elbit’s armed drones are used by the Israeli army in daily surveillance and attacks in Gazaxvi In effect, Elbit markets its equipment with the fact that it has been battle tested on people in Gaza. For example, the Elbit website advertises the Hermes 450 drone as “combat proven” and the “primary platform of the IDF in counter-terror operations”.xvii
The Israeli military still does not openly acknowledge its use of armed drones to carry out strikes in Gaza.xviii However, Israel’s use of drones to conduct assassinations is well documented by grassroots groups,xix NGOs and cables disclosed by Wikileaks. Drones are also used for surveillance, reconnaissance and to acquire targets for piloted planes to attack.xxxxi
In 2016, The Intercept revealed that since 2008 UK and US intelligence agencies had been tapping into Israeli drone video feeds, including Elbit’s Hermes drones. The feeds appeared to show that some of the drones were carrying missiles.xxii There is now substantial evidence that both the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 drones have been deployed and armed by the Israeli military.xxiii
The use of drone technology has changed the nature of modern warfare, enabling governments to launch attacks without any need for boots on the ground or a declaration of war. Accordingly, drones provided by Elbit and other companies have been used by the Israeli military to carry out assassinations in Sudan and Egypt at times when Israel was not officially ‘at war’ with those countries. They have also been used to spy on people in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon (see below).
Use of Elbit’s equipment in Gaza
Elbit’s Hermes drones were one of the two main unpiloted aircraft used to attack people in Gaza during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead attack, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW):
“The Hermes can stay aloft for up to 24 hours at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet and has an array of optical, infra-red, and laser sensors that allow the operator to identify and track targets as well as to guide munitions in flight. The Hermes carries two Spike-MR (medium range) missiles.”xxiv
HRW reports that the Hermes drone is equipped with a camera system which allows the drone pilot to see if a person is armed and if they are a child or an adult. The drone’s missiles are also equipped with cameras and can be diverted up to the last second. This means that Israel’s drone pilots and their commanders would have known that they were targeting civilians and may be culpable for war crimes carried out by Elbit drones. HRW has also called for the disclosure of camera footage shot by Hermes drones to assist in the investigation of war crimes. Needless to say, this request has not been granted.xxv
The assassination of Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari – the start of Israel’s 2012 Pillar of Cloud assault on Gaza – was carried out by an Elbit Hermes 450 drone, according to Defence Today.xxvi
Elbit’s 7.5 Skylark mini-UAV, operational in the Israeli Army since 2008, was heavily used for support of ground military actions in Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, which killed 2,202 Palestinians. The Hermes 450s and 900s were also used throughout this attack.
At the time, Elbit’s CEO confirmed to Israeli media that “all [Elbit products] were in operational use by the IDF in the recent fighting and proved themselves.”xxviii
During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, four young children were killed after an Israeli drone, operated remotely by soldiers from the Palmachim air base in Israel, targeted them while playing on a beach. The drone’s operators claimed that they mistook the four Palestinian cousins, all aged 10 or 11, for “Hamas militants”. An Israeli police report seen by The Intercept shows that, at about 3.30pm, the operators of an Israeli Hermes 450 drone captured footage of the boys. An Israeli air force commander then ordered the operators of a second drone to fire, killing one of the boys. After firing the first missile, the operators of the second drone pursued the rest of the boys, and reportedly radioed for orders as to whether to carry out a second strike in a civilian area. They did not receive an order but fired anyway. The two missile strikes killed the four boys and injured 4 others. All the boys were from the Bakr family. The family has launched a legal case in an attempt to get justice.xxix
During the investigation into the murder of the Bakr boys, the drone operators claimed that they “couldn’t tell they were children”. If this is true, then it brings into question the quality of the video-feed from the Elbit drone.xxx
The use of Elbit’s drones in war crimes leads to more business for the company. A year after Elbit’s Hermes 900 was introduced to the skies of Gaza, the Israeli military ordered an upgrade of the drone. Elbit also took orders for the Hermes 900 from Switzerland and a “Latin American client”, according to the Jerusalem Post.xxxi
West Bank Apartheid Wall
Elbit is one of the main providers of the electronic detection fence system for the West Bank apartheid Wall.xxxii The wall has been ruled illegal by the International Criminal Court.xxxiii
Arrests in the West Bank
The Elbit Skylark drone was used during multiple house arrests by the Israeli military in the West Bank in 2014.xxxiv
Elbit’s purchase of IMI and the massacres of Palestinian protesters.
Last year, Israel’s antitrust regulators approved Elbit’s purchase of IMI Systems, the sole supplier of small calibre ammunition to the Israeli military. The sale has now gone through.
Since March 2018, protesters in Gaza have been holding demonstrations at the apartheid wall separating them from Israel under the banner of the “Great March of Return”. Israeli troops routinely open fire with live ammunition. At the time of writing over 183 people have been killed, and over 10,391 people injuredxxxv while attending the protests.
Elbit is currently involved in the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s project to construct an extra hi-tech barrier around the Gaza Strip, fortifying the current barrier that besieges Gazans.
The company is already trying to increase its profits from its experience of intensifying Israel’s siege of Gaza. According to Who Profits, Elbit is urging the Israeli government to allow it to export the tunnel detection system that it developed for the Israeli military to use.xxxvi
Deadly ghost ships
Elbit’s products also includexxxvii armed remote control boats, capable of launching torpedoes.xxxviii Palestinian fishermen have told Corporate Occupation researchers that they have been attacked by similar unpiloted boats off the shores of Gaza.
Elbit’s unpiloted boats were showcasedxxxix at the Singapore airshow in 2016 and have been deployed in NATO training exercises in 2018.xl GRSE, a company owned by the Indian state, is partneringxli with Elbit on an Unmanned Surface Vehicle project.
The Israeli occupied Syrian Golan
In 2010, Corporate Watch researchers found that Elbit had premises in the settlement of Bnei Yehuda, on land taken from Syrians by military force in 1967. The settlement is illegal under international law.xlii
Israeli attacks in Sudan and Egypt
In 2009 Hermes 450 drones were used in an attack on a convoy in Sudan, which was reportedly bearing arms bound for Gaza.xliii
There is growing evidence of Israeli Hermes drones supporting Egypt’s attacks against Islamist and anti-state groups in the Northern Sinai peninsula. In 2012, Elbit Hermes 450 drones were involved in an assassination in North Sinai.xliv In 2013, a Hermes 450 malfunctioned while flying “close to the Egyptian border”. The military claim that it was intentionally crashed on the Israeli side of the border.xlv In 2017 an Israeli drone strike killed one person in Rafah.xlvi In August 2018, anonymous sources within the Egyptian army told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that Israeli drones had carried out an attack killing five people in Rafah, on the Egyptian side of the border.xlvii It is not clear if Elbit’s equipment was used in these two later attacks but the company clearly sees the situation in the Sinai as an opportunity for increased profits. Elad Ahronson, an executive at Elbit, referred to the Sinai Peninsula in an interview about Elbit’s products with industry press in 2015.xlviii
Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran
Elbit’s Hermes 450 drones were used intensively during Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon.
In April 2018, an armed Israeli Hermes 450 drone, manufactured by Elbit, crashed in Southern Lebanon. Eyewitnesses reported that a second drone fired a missile at the crashed drone, partially destroying it, presumably to prevent anyone retrieving data from it. The Israeli military released a statement that the drone belonged to them.xlix The Elbit drone was reportedly armed with four Israeli-made Mikholit missiles.l
The Israeli military has deployed Hermes 900 drones close to the Israel/Syria border.li In 2017, an Elbit-manufactured Skylark mini-drone was shot down by pro-Assad forces in Syria over the city of Quneitra.lii Earlier that year, a strike by an unidentified Israeli drone had killed a pro-Assad militia commander in Southern Syria.liii
In 2014, it was reported that an Israeli Hermes drone was shot down close to Baghdad Airport in Iraq. The Israeli military refused to confirm or deny the story.liv
Elbit’s drones are also key to the two-way espionage taking place between Israel and Iran. An Elbit Hermes 450 drone was shot down in 2014 in Iran, close to a uranium enrichment facility.lv Shooting down the drone may have helped Iran’s own drone industry, which has developed drones based on the Hermes.lvi
Elbit claims that its large Hermes 900 StarLiner drone is well suited to attacks on far-away “targets” such as Iran and Syria.lvii
Pushing the boundaries of “conflict zones”
In 2018, Elbit showcased a version of the Hermes 900 drone designed to fly in civilian airspace, alongside civilian planes. “Some customers would like to use the system to gather intelligence,” Elbit CEO Bezhalel Machlis said. “Another example can be for homeland security applications, to fly above an area and make sure it is monitored against terrorist activities.” Press reports at the time of writing say that “Elbit expects to receive approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for its own product in the coming months.”lviii Of course, this may well be PR spin. If true, it would mean that drones developed besieging and attacking Gaza might become used routinely on a global scale by states spying on their own populations.
Elbit’s deals and partnerships around the world
Elbit leased Hermes 450 drones to the UK armed forces, through French company Thales,lix for use in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007-14. These drones reportedly flew over Afghanistan for at least 86,000 hours.lx
The UK has also used Hermes 450 drones over Afghanistan and deployed its new Watchkeeper drone, based on the Hermes 450 (see below). Canada has also purchased Elbit Skylark drones for use in Afghanistan.lxi
In 2005, the UK announced that it would buy new drones based on the Hermes 450 design. As a result, Elbit formed the U-TacS partnership (of which it owns a 51% stake) with French company Thales to supply 54 Watchkeeper drones to the Ministry of Defence. Although, on the face of it, the Watchkeeper is a reconnaissance drone, it has been displayed in several arms fairs bearing missiles. There is no evidence, however, that the UK has deployed it armed.
Engines for the Watchkeeper are being produced at Elbit’s UAV engines factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire. British soldiers have travelled to Israel to undergo training as part of the Watchkeeper programme. Testing is carried out from ParcAberporth in West Wales and Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.lxii However, during the winter of 2015, the MOD moved the Watchkeeper programme to the mid-Atlantic British colony of Ascension, citing better weather.lxiii Avoiding public scrutiny may also have played a part.
A Watchkeeper drone was first deployed in Afghanistan in 2014. But the deployment was more a sales pitch for U-TacS than of any operational benefit. The French military, potential buyers of the Watchkeeper, were invited to watch the flight from Camp Bastion, and the drone has since been advertised as combat-proven.
However, in 2016 the French military chose to buy a Sagem drone instead of the Watchkeeper.lxiv The decision was probably due to the severe delays and crashes which have occurred in the UK Watchkeeper programme, as well as campaigning by BDS activists in France.lxv
The Watchkeeper is also now a little outdated, as it requires the operator to be relatively close by, compared to the US’ Predator and Reaper drones.
In 2018, a Watchkeeper crashed in Ceredigon, West Wales, the fifth drone so far to have crashed. Local residents are concerned over safety and almost £30m has been wasted.lxvi The Watchkeeper programme, in a surprise Israeli contribution to the UK anti-war movement, has cost the Ministry of Defence (MOD) more than £1bn over the last 12 years but has translated to only 146 hours of use on operations.
In response to a parliamentary question in 2018, the MOD stated that it had received delivery of 45 out of 54 of the Watchkeeper dronesordered, meaning that nine remain to be delivered, five years past the delivery date. Five of those 45 drones crashed during tests.lxvii
All of this has not been a particularly good advert for U-TacS and Elbit. However, this doesn’t seem to have stopped Elbit from starting fresh partnerships in the UK aimed at getting more MoD contracts.
Perhaps to deal with all this potential bad press, as well as criticisms from BDS activists, Elbit has enlisted the services of a UK based PR/Strategy consultancy called TWC Associates which has links to the Conservative party.lxviii
Since 2016, Elbit has run a joint venture called Affinity Training with US company KBR. Affinity has a flight training school at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire in the UK, partnering with the MoD to train British pilots.lxix Affinity’s contract with the MoD is worth £500m over 18 years.lxx
In 2017, the company also entered into an agreement with Babcock International, a British multinational, to establish a joint company to deliver another training programme to the MoD.lxxi The plan is to deliver outsourced training to the air force over a fifteen year period.lxxii
The MoD’s repeated deals with Elbit are a direct support to Israel’s military industrial complex.
Ferranti, one of Elbit’s UK subsidiaries, is running a PR campaign in Oldham. They are participating at events in Oldham’s Mahdio Centre, where students are encouraged to spend time talking to the company about “careers”. Ferranti’s website boasts that they gave out free “stress balls and sweeties”.
US and the Mexico border wall
Elbit has been working with the Department of Homeland Security since 2006.lxxiii In 2014 it used its experience providing electronics to the West Bank and Gaza apartheid walls to win a contract with the US to develop surveillance towers on Arizona’s border with Mexico. The $145m contract, awarded to Elbit’s US subsidiary, was intended to “be able to detect a single, walking, average-sized adult’ at a range of five miles”.lxxiv
Elbit border security. Photo:www.elbitsystems.com
In 2017, the Trump administration awarded Elbit a contract to work on the expansion of the Mexico border wall. The Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) called for mutual solidarity with grassroots movements in the US and Mexico, saying: “When we Palestinians see how the escalating militarization of the Mexico/U.S. border obstructs migrants’ right to freedom of movement, we recall how Israel’s intense militarization of the occupied West Bank also restricts Palestinian freedom of movement.”lxxv
Some of the towers are now operational. George Kesting of Elbit Systems of America said: “The [border control] agents are able to… use the system with the cameras to see what the activity is in detail that’s coming at them”.lxxvi The company is now searching for new opportunities to exploit the state control of people’s movement along the border.lxxvii
Since its acquisition of IMI, Elbit/IMI is also providing weapons systems for use with US Bradley Fighting vehicles.lxxviii
Georgia used Hermes 450 drones to its advantage in its conflict with Russia over South Ossetia. Russia responded by buying its own Israeli drones, manufactured by Elbit competitor IAI.lxxix
Turkey’s president Erdoğan is trying to position himself as an opponent of Israel’s siege of Gaza, while oppressing Kurds and imposing his own occupation and siege on Rojava. Despite announcing short-lived military embargoes, Turkey has not answered Palestinian civil society calls to boycott Israeli arms. Elbit’s Joseph Ackermann boasted in 2011 that the political situation between the two countries had had “no effect” on Elbit.lxxx Campaign Against the Arms Trade reports that Elbit made applications annually to export weapons to Turkey from it’s factories in the UK from 2010 to 2015.lxxxi It is possible that the exports were made via the UK to avoid sparking political controversy between Israel and Turkey, which have both sporadically imposed embargoes on each other since 2010.lxxxii
In 2018, Elbit began a joint venture with India’s Adani to set up a drone production plant in Hyderabad.lxxxiii Adani is already the target of a mass movement in Australia because of their plan to build one of the world’s biggest coal mines on First Nations peoples’ lands. If completed, the mine would contribute significantly to global climate change, and ships exporting coal to India would devastate the Great Barrier Reef.lxxxiv
In 2014, the Philippines government signed a $20M deal with Elbit for 28 Israeli upgraded armored personnel carriers (APCs), to be delivered in 2015. The BNC and Phillipino socialist party Akbayan made the following statement:
“We urge Congress to join Akbayan, the BNC and the people of Palestine in calling upon the government to scrap the deal with Elbit Systems. Certainly, the modernization of the Philippine military must not come at the expense of the lives of innocent Palestinian people and peace in Palestine and Israel. We plan to propose cancellation of this unacceptable arms deal during the coming budget briefing of the Department of National Defense.”lxxxv
In 2011, Elbit won an $8.5m contract to supply mortars to the Spanish army over a 12 month period.lxxxvi
In 2014, Armasuisse, the Swiss military procurement agency, awarded Elbit a $280m contract for Hermes 900 drones. This came after Israel’s 2012 bombardment of Gaza, where more people were killed by drones than by any other weapon. The delivery contract extends over 5 years until 2020.lxxxvii Swiss drones had previously been provided by Elbit’s rival, IAI.
Brazil used Hermes 450s and 900s for surveillance during the 2014 world cup. Elbit has a network of subsidiaries and manufacturing plants in the country.lxxxviii However, due to the efforts of campaigners in pressuring the previous Worker’s Party government, Elbit had difficulties operating in Brazil (see resistance section below). In 2015, Israeli business website The Marker wrote that “political reasons” led to a de facto freeze of military transactions with Brazil – a development that was particularly painful for Elbit Systems.lxxxix
This situation appears to have changed since the 2016 removal of Workers Party president Dilma Rousseff In 2017 Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary, Ares, signed a new contract to provide remotely controlled weapons systems to Brazil’s armed forces.
Elbit and the EU
Elbit receives generous grants from the European Union under its Horizon 2020 research programme.xc The company benefited from involvement in five European projects under the Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development. Palestinians have calledxci on the EU to end all of its dealings with Elbit and other Israeli arms companies. According to Palestinian campaign group Stop the Wall:
“The issue at stake is not the project itself but the contribution by the EU tax money to the company’s solvency. These projects de facto are a subsidy to the company, including its production of drones and weapons and technology for the Wall and the settlements.”xcii
In 2017, according to Electronic Intifada, Elbit had received almost $6 million in European taxpayer money as part of Horizon 2020 and other EU research funding streams. Campaigners have pointed out that these grants are being made despite the fact that Elbit does not ensure that its weapons are not used with cluster munitions, something the EU is now obliged to do under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Elbit and Europe’s attacks on migrants
In 2013-14 Elbit was involved in talks with The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, then known as Frontex, about how its Hermes 900 drones can be used for surveillance of migrants.xcv Frontex, however, now appears to be favouring Elbit’s competitors, Israeli Aerospace Industries and Leonardo.
Links with Israeli universities
Israeli universities are deeply enmeshed with the Israeli arms industry. Students at Haifa’s Technion have been awarded grants to access an Elbit research laboratory, while the chairman of the board of governors at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is Michael Federmann, who also chairs the board at Elbit.xcvi
Elbit is also seeking new partnerships with international universities. In 2017, Elbit announced new partnerships with the Metropolitan State University in Minnesota and Regent University in Virginia.xcvii
Industry: Manufacture of military, security and surveillance equipment. Unpiloted drones, military and naval weapons, flight training and simulation, medical instruments.xcviii
Traded on: NASDAQ (ESLT) | TASE
Revenues/profits: In 2017 the company reported revenues of $3.37bn and a net income of $239m.xcix To see the latest annual report click here.c The company has increased its revenues over the last ten years. During that period, the Israeli army has used their equipment in three major attacks on Gaza.
Employees: Over 12,700ci (mostly in Israel and the US)
Israeli subsidiaries: Elop, Elisra SCD. Cyberbit, Semi-Conductor Devices (Also owned by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems) and Opgal (50%). Elbit Systems Land and C4, Elbit Security Systems, Cyclone, ELSEC, Kinetics, ITL Optronics, SCD (50%), Tor (50%)
US subsidiaries: Elbit Systems of America, Merrimack Operations (Kollsman Inc), EFW, KMC Systems, Fort Worth Operations, International Enterprises, Talladega Operations (IEI), Mclean Operations (ICI), San Antonio Operations (M7), M7 Aerospace, Real Time Laboratories, Boca Raton Operations, VSI and RCEVS.
Elbit Systems of America (ESA), wholly owned by Elbit, is a contractor for the US Foreign Military Sales Programme and has a special security arrangement with the US Department of Defense allowing them access to classified data.ciii
ESA’s subsidiary KMC is involved in the manufacture of medical instruments used by healthcare providers, and ESA is involved in manufacturing communications equipment for police and emergency services.
UAV Engine’s website advertises engines for drones.cvi In 2010 UAV Engines applied for two military export licences to Israel for engines for drones. The UK government has previously claimed that equipment provided by this firm has “only been issued for the engines to be incorporated in Israel and then exported.” However, doubt has been cast on this claim by many commentators, including Amnesty International.cvii
Instro’s website advertises camera systems for surveillance and target acquisition.cix
Instro are in the process of moving to a new premises. The new address will be Discovery Park Site North East, Ramsgate Road, Sandwich, CT13 9ND. It is anticipated that this address will eventually replace the Broadstairs address.
Advanced Technology Center, POB 539, Haifa 31053, Israel.
Company website: elbitsystems.com
As of late September 2018, Elbit is controlled by the Federmann Family through Federmann Enterprises (46%). Other major investors are Psagot Investment House, FMR, Invesco, Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co, Renaissance Technologies, Altshuler Shaham, Delek Group, Vanguard Group and Deutsche Bank.cx
The Canadian Public Sector Pension Investment Board, the Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank of Canada also hold shares.cxi
Two UK High Street banks, HSBC and Barclays, have historically been listed as shareholders in Elbit. Both banks own shares on behalf of their clients through stockbroker services which facilitate the buying and selling of shares. While the decision to buy or sell the shares remains with the banks’ clients, banks could take the ethical stance of excluding Elbit and other arms companies from their platforms.
In 2015, campaigners celebrated that Barclays was no longer listed as a shareholder in Elbit.cxii However, at the time of writing, Barclays was again listed as a shareholder in the company on NASDAQ.cxiii
HSBC announced that it had divested from Elbit in late 2018 (see below).
A full list of Elbit’s investors can be found here.
Products manufactured by Elbit
Drones, helmet mounted display systems, display and weapons systems for Apache helicopters, rockets and guidance systems, fuel tanks for F-16s, unpiloted boats, systems for civil aviation, remote control turrets for armoured personnel carriers, artillery systems, systems to control firing from tanks, remote control ground vehicles, radio and satellite systems, electronic fence systems, thermal imaging cameras, satellite technology for space programmes, systems for Bradley fighting vehicles, flight simulators, medical instruments.cxiv
Manufacturing: Elbit says it manufactures the majority of its products in the US, Israel, Europe, India and Brazil.cxv
Shippers: US shipping firm APL and Maersk, a Danish shipping conglomerate, have both transported Elbit products in the past.cxvi In 2018, Seamax Shipping, based in Dubai, transported a consignment from Elbit Israel to Triumph Aerostructures in the US.cxvii
Elbit regularly promotes itself at international weapons exhibitions including DSEI (London), Land Forces (Australia), MSPCO Kielce (Poland), ADAS (Philippines), Paris Air Show (France), Farnborough Airshow (UK), Singapore Airshow (Singapore), ADEX Baku (Azerbaijan), BIDEC (Bahrain), Eurosatory (France), IDEF (Turkey)cxxxvi, DefExpo (India).cxxxvii
Since the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions was made in 2005, there has been a divestment campaign against Elbit. The Norwegian state pension fund, leading Danish bank Danske Bank, Dutch pension giant ABP, the Swedish AP pension fund and Folksam have all divested their shares.cxxxviii Investment experts have told campaigners that Elbit now appears on most blacklists prepared by ‘socially responsible’ investment research companies.
Barclays is the only European high street bank to appear on the list of institutional shareholders investing in Elbit published by NASDAQ.com. This suggests that most European banks believe that the company’s role in Israeli war crimes make it an inappropriate investment.
In 2011 a Palestinian civil society call demanded a two way embargo on arms sales to and from the Israeli state and Israeli companies.cxxxix Anti-militarist campaigners have targeted Elbit in line with this call and launched campaigns calling for investors to divest their shares from the company.
The campaign has gathered momentum since the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2014. During the attack, activists occupied the roof of Elbit’s UK subsidiary in Shenstone, closing the factory for 48 hours. A similar occupation was held in Australia.cxl Demonstrations continue to be held at Elbit’s factory in Shenstone.
In response to the 2014 massacre, social movements and trade unions in Brazil pressured the government of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul to end a collaboration deal with Elbit. The state government eventually agreed to cancel the contract, citing ethical concerns. The cancelled plans included a $17m project to build military satellites.cxli
In 2016, the Brazilian Ministry of Defence, then headed by a member of the pro-Palestinian Communist Party of Brazil, refused to approve funds to a drone research and development project with Elbit. Elbit was forced to abandon the project, and later closed down Harpia Sistemas, the company’s joint venture with Brazilian company Embraer.cxlii
Campaigners in Wales have been protesting for years against the testing of the Watchkeeper drones at ParcAberporth in West Wales.cxliii
Activists also held an intensive campaign calling for Barclays to divest from Elbit, holding pickets, blockades, occupations and demonstrations at Barclays branches. In a day of action in November 2014, 15 simultaneous actions were held against Barclays branches across the UK. In 2015, campaigners celebrated as Barclays divested their shares.cxliv However, in 2018 Barclays were again listed as a shareholder in Elbit on NASDAQ.cxlv
A successful divestment campaign took place against HSBC, calling on them to stop their clients from buying shares in Elbit through their investment platform. In July 2017, campaigners held demonstrations at HSBC branches in Brighton, Manchester and London, dubbing it “the world’s lethal bank”cxlvi Protests were also held at HSBC’s 2018 AGM and a further day of action was held at HSBC branches across the UK in September.cxlvii
Brighton PSC Protest
Ryvka Bernard of War On Want said:
“HSBC has taken a positive first step in divesting from Elbit Systems, the notorious manufacturer of drones, chemical weapons, cluster bomb artillery systems, and other technology used in attacks against Palestinian civilians, and to militarise walls and borders around the world. Doing business with companies like Elbit means profiting from violence and human rights violation, which is both immoral and a contravention of international law.
“However, HSBC continues to do business with over a dozen companies selling military equipment and technology used in human rights violation, including Caterpillar, whose bulldozers are used in demolition of Palestinian homes and properties, and BAE Systems, whose weapons are used in war crimes by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other repressive regimes. Until it ends its support for companies arming repression, the campaign will continue!”.
Blockades, demonstrations, occupations
The bi-annual DSEI arms fair held in London, where Elbit is a regular exhibitor, meets with resistance currently organised by the Stop the Arms Fair coalition. 2017 saw the biggest mobilisation for many years, with thousands of people attempting to block the weapons exhibitors from getting into the fair.cxlviii The next DSEI arms fair is in September 2019.
Resistance has also focused on Thales, Elbit’s partner in the Watchkeeper programme. In June 2014 a demonstration was held at the company HQ in London. In October 2014, a rooftop occupation was held at a Thales plant in Glasgow.cxlix
Activists in Kent have been taking direct action against the Instro Precision factory, with numerous rooftop occupations and lock-ons.cl Campaigners were able to contribute to the local council’s decisions to turn down a planning application for a new site for the Elbit subsidiary at Kent’s Manston airport.cli
Elbit has been very cautious in prosecuting activists. In 2015, the Crown Prosecution Services dropped the case against nine protesters who had occupied the roof of the UAV engines factory the previous summer. The defendants had been arguing that their actions were justified as Elbit was complicit in war crimes. Crucially, the defendants’ lawyers had been asking for disclosure to the court of documentation of Elbit’s export licenses.
It seems likely the company pulled out of the prosecution to avoid public scrutiny. Ewa Jasiewicz, one of the defendants, said that Elbit was now a “prime target” for direct action to shut the factory down.clii
Later in 2015, as Palestine Action groups organised Block the Factory protests, a civil injunction was granted to Elbit’s Shenstone factory by the High Court. The police violently tried to enforce the injunction, leading to 19 arrests. However, at a hearing in October the injunction was lifted, as Elbit had failed to provide the correct documentation to the court. A spokesperson for Block the Factory said at the time: “It’s Elbit Systems and its arms factories that should be facing a ban, not our protests. Today’s decision will bring even more energy to our campaigning.”cliii
Since then, there have been no criminal prosecutions of activists who have targeted Elbit’s subsidiaries in the UK, and very few arrests.
Recently, activists have held coordinated days of action, taking action simultaneously at all of Elbit’s subsidiaries in the UK, in Kent, Staffordshire and Manchester.clv Some of these have also targeted Elbit’s partner, Thales.clvi At the most recent event, in June 2018, activist Susannah Mengesha explained her reasons for taking part:
“Elbit commodifies the murder of Palestinian people on an industrial scale. Every day that their factories remain open will have a civilian cost. A direct line can be drawn from the manufacturing processes in factories such as Instro Precision to Israeli war crimes. I refuse to believe that the lives of people in places like Gaza are worth any less than those elsewhere. My heart goes out to the mothers in Gaza, who surely have suffered more than most in the last few weeks and years. I want to tell them that the people here do not consent to these factories being here, and we will do all we can to stop them.”clvii
Campaigners are also pressuring the EU to exclude Elbit and other Israeli arms companies from its research funding. War on Want, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other grassroots campaigners in the UK have been involved in an EU lobbying campaign, in conjunction with grassroots activists.
In France, action against Elbit has also been intensifying. Elbit’s inclusion in the tendering process for a new French drone sparked a wave of protests across France, calling for the company to be excluded from the tendering process. Elbit was eventually passed over, in favour of a drone manufactured by Sagem (which, ironically, contained Elbit components).clviii In 2017, BDS France disrupted Elbit’s stall at the Paris Air Show.clix Similar protests against Elbit’s presenceat the fair happen every year. Activists have also begun a campaign against the French insurance giant, AXA, calling on the company to divest from Elbit.clx
Call for increased action
In 2018, Abdulrahman Abunahel, the Gaza Strip Coordinator for the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), reiterated the call for a two way arms embargo. This came after Israel’s gunning down of Palestinian protesters at the Great Return March and the worst aerial bombardment of Gaza since 2014. He said:
“The global military and security industry plays a central role in helping Israel maintain its half-century of military rule over 4.5 million Palestinians, including its devastating and illegal siege suffocating nearly two million of us here in Gaza, its ongoing, illegal theft of Palestinian land, and its apartheid policies that systematically discriminate against us indigenous people of this land.
“Since March 30th alone, when we Palestinians in occupied Gaza participated in mass demonstrations to simply express our demand to be free and our right as refugees to return home, Israel has killed more than 130 of us and repeatedly bombed densely populated areas.
“Israel is effectively “field-testing” weapons on us Palestinians here in Gaza before exporting them to other countries, mainly in the global south. At the same time, governments and international private military and security companies from the Global North are providing arms and technology to Israel, which Israel used to kill and repress Palestinians.
“The world must act to end these deadly relations and stop arming Israel. I take hope in the fact that more and more people and institutions are calling for an end to all forms of military and security cooperation with Israel and seeking to impose a comprehensive military embargo until it ends its gross violations of Palestinian rights.”
About the prospects for the campaign against Elbit, Maren Mantovani and Jamal Jumaaof Stop the Wall are confident:
“Elbit Systems, big as it is, is particularly vulnerable to activist action. It is the only Israeli private military company of this size and hence is more vulnerable to crises, risks of financial speculation, and economic restructuring. Elbit Systems is highly indebted and needs to ensure a continuous cash flow to service that debt. Its ever more global presence makes it easier for activists in different countries to take on Elbit or its subsidiaries. In addition, the growing dependence of the military industry on the Israeli state budget to rescue it also makes it vulnerable, while increasing the vulnerability of the state.
“When questioned recently about the impact of BDS on Elbit Systems’ operations, CEO Bezhalel Machlis admitted: ‘I’m not saying it’s not a threat, but I think that altogether we can handle it.’ Human rights advocates now face the challenge of increasing the capacity of the BDS movement so that it pressures the Israeli war economy to the extent that it moves from being a threat to a definitive impediment.”clxi
The battlefields of Israel’s militarism and occupation have proved effective testing grounds for new types of weaponry. Israel’s constant state of warfare has ensured a reliable marketplace for Israeli arms manufacturers. According to Drone Wars UK, surveillance drones were first used in Egypt in the lead up to Israel’s 1973 attack. The first recorded use of an Israeli drone to help piloted warplanes bomb targets was in 1982, in the run up to the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon.
The Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights say the first recorded use of an armed drone by Israel was in 2004. The experience gleaned during years of military repression has made Israel the largest exporter of drone technology in the world. Israeli arms companies have sold drones to over 50 countries.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW):
“the missile fired from a drone has its own cameras that allow the operator to observe the target from the moment of firing. The optics on both the drone and missiles include imaging infrared cameras that allow operators to see individuals at night as well as during the day. With these visual capabilities, drone operators should have been able to tell the difference between fighters and others directly participating in hostilities, who are legitimate targets, and civilians, who are immune from attack, and to hold fire if that determination could not be made. If a last-second doubt arises about a target, the drone operator can use the missile’s remote guidance system to divert the fired missile, steering the missile away from the target with a joystick.”
Despite this, the number of deaths (as a proportion of total deaths) caused by drone strikes has been increasing. During our 2013 visit to Gaza, Corporate Watch interviewed several survivors of Israeli drone attacks who had not been involved in any fighting before they were targeted, while many of those killed by drone attacks are children. The Gaza based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights provided Corporate Watch with these figures for the years 2000-2012:
Total recorded number of people killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza
Number of people killed by Israeli drones in Gaza (% of total)
Israeli drone strikes are carried out from the Palmachin and Tel Nof air force bases.clxii
Written by Tom Anderson of Shoal Collective, a cooperative of writers and researchers writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism. @shoalcollective
Tom’s writing in support of the BDS movement can be found at corporateoccupation.org. @CorpOccupation
iBureau Van Dyck, Elbit Systems, Accessed Aug 2018.