Defense Ministry rebukes Israeli spy tech company for unlawful exports

Defense Ministry rebukes Israeli spy tech company for unlawful exports

Ability Computer and Software Industries, Ability Security Systems have licenses suspended after hearing; most details in case under gag order

The Defense Ministry building in Tel Aviv, August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The Defense Ministry building in Tel Aviv, August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday suspended the licenses of two subsidiaries of Israel tech company Ability for violating defense export laws. A gag order was placed on most of the details surrounding the investigation.

The two companies — Ability Computer and Software Industries, and Ability Security Systems — were suspected of marketing and exporting listening and positioning systems without licenses against the law, the ministry said.

Representatives of the companies were summoned to a hearing by the Defense Ministry Tuesday, following an investigation.

The decision to suspend the licenses, which the companies say “provide intelligence technologies to government agencies and the military,” was an unusual move by the ministry.

Illustrative photo of satellite dishes (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of satellite dishes (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

At the end of the proceedings, Ability Security Systems was suspended from the Defense Export Registry, along with its marketing, export and encryption licenses. Ability Computer and Software Industries also had licenses suspended.

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 under the law, 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. However, such embargoes rarely happen, generally because of vetoes by China and Russia.

Israel has been accused of selling weapons and military services to human rights violators around the world for decades, including to apartheid South Africa, Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and in recent years to South Sudan, despite a near-universal arms embargo over the bloody civil war there.

Israeli company NSO is currently facing lawsuits alleging it sold spyware to governments with questionable human rights records. Channel 12 news reported last month that NSO hired controversial private investigation firm Black Cube to investigate those involved with the case. The NSO Group denied the claim.

The logo of the Israeli company NSO Group is displayed on a building where they had offices in Herzliya until 2016. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

Recently, Israel has also been accused of supplying Myanmar with “advanced weapons” during the country’s ethnic cleansing campaign against its Rohingya Muslims. The Foreign Ministry admitted last year that Israel had sold weapons to Myanmar in the past, but said that it had frozen all contracts earlier in 2017.

In 2018, controversial Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte told President Reuven Rivlin that his country would only buy weapons from Israel due to its lack of restrictions. He has said in the past that he sees Israel as an alternative supplier of weapons after the US and other countries refused to sell him arms over human rights violations.

The recent warming of ties between Israel and Chad was reportedly conditioned on Jerusalem’s willingness to sell arms to the African country, which critics say is guilty of human rights violations.

The Israel Aerospace Industries new Mini-Harpy kamikaze drone, which was unveiled at the Aero India trade show in Bangalore, India, in February 2019. (Israel Aerospace Industries)

Israel has also come under criticism for its cooperation with Azerbaijan, another country accused of human rights violations, despite it being one of the few majority-Muslim countries with which the Jewish state enjoys an openly positive relationship.

Azerbaijan is seen as an important ally given that it shares a border with Israel’s nemesis, Iran. Last year, the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, revealed Azerbaijan had purchased some $5 billion worth of weapons and defense systems from Israel.

In February, top officials in the Israeli drone manufacturer Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. were suspended over suspicions the company tested one of its “suicide drones” against the Armenian military on behalf of Azerbaijan in 2017.

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