20 suspected of testing illegal missiles in central Israel, selling to Asia

Former defense industry officials among those investigated; video appears to show rocket fired in test near residential area; country implicated in case is unnamed

A photo said to depict illegal missile development for an unnamed Asian country, released February 11, 2020. (Shin Bet)
A photo said to depict illegal missile development for an unnamed Asian country, released February 11, 2020. (Shin Bet)

Some 20 suspects have been investigated in recent months for allegedly illegally developing, manufacturing, testing and selling armed cruise missiles to an unnamed Asian country, the Shin Bet and Israel Police announced on Thursday.

A video released by police apparently showed an illegal missile test carried out in central Israel in 2019. Police said the rocket was fired “not far” from residential neighborhoods.

The identity of all of the suspects remained under gag order.

In a statement, the Shin Bet said they included former defense industry employees and the alleged crimes included offenses against the security of the state, violations of the law on the supervision of security exports, money laundering, and additional economic offenses.

The Shin Bet additionally said the suspects received “considerable funds” in return for carrying out instructions from people connected to the Asian nation, and had tried to conceal the financial transactions.

The investigation also revealed that the activities were carried out in secret in an attempt to hide the final destination of the missiles.

“This affair underscores the potential damage to the security of the state inherent in illegal transactions carried out by Israeli citizens with foreign elements, including the concern that such technology could reach countries hostile to Israel,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

Israel’s defense exports are regulated according to a 2007 law that requires defense contractors to consider what and where Israeli weapons will be used for. The law is designed to prevent companies from knowingly selling weapons to countries that intend to use them to commit atrocities.

While the contractors are legally required to take potential human rights violations into consideration, this requirement can be overruled out of diplomatic or security concerns.

Currently, Israeli law only prevents the sale of weapons to countries that are under an official embargo from the UN Security Council. Such embargoes rarely happen, generally because of vetoes by China and Russia.

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