Israeli arms sales dropped for the second straight year in 2019, according to Defense Ministry figures released Monday, with weapons exports facing potential headwinds this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate, known as SIBAT, said defense exports totaled $7.2 billion last year, down from $7.5 billion in 2018. Exports hit a record high of $9.2 billion in 2017 owing to several large deals.
“Despite the challengers and the fierce international competition, we succeeded in keeping Israel among the 10 leading defense exporters in the world,” Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Yair Kulas, the head of SIBAT, said in a statement.
In a briefing with reporters, Kulas described the scope of arms sales the past two years as the “continuation of a stable trend.”
The Asia-Pacific region remained the largest purchaser of Israeli defense goods, buying 41 percent of total exports, followed by Europe at 26% and North America at 25%. Africa and Latin America each accounted for 4% of arms purchases.
At 17%, radar and electronic warfare systems made up the largest chunk of exports, followed by rockets and air-defense systems at 15%. Exports of unmanned aerial vehicles and drones amounted to 8% of all arms sales, while cyber and intelligence systems were 7%.
Kulas confirmed exports of cyber-intelligence systems increased from the year before, but wouldn’t specify which countries they were sold to. Israeli sales of such technology have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years due to allegations they were used by some countries to spy on political dissidents and journalists.
He also noted the number of government-to-government arms sales had grown and said they could pass $1 billion this year despite the pandemic. Many countries have tasked their defense ministries with procuring coronavirus-related gear, and any equipment sold under such an arrangement is considered a defense export.
“The coronavirus crisis presented the global economy and the defense market with a new reality. We’re making adjustments in the Defense Ministry’s operations and trying in a variety of ways to turn the crisis into an opportunity for the defense industry,” Kulas said.
He acknowledged, however, that many countries may shift spending on defense to healthcare and other sectors as part of measures to address the virus and accompanying economic fallout, potentially putting a dent in Israeli weapons exports.