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Israeli arms sales hit new record of $11.3 billion in 2021 — with 7% to Gulf

Defense Ministry officials say last year saw sharp increase in demands for Israeli defense goods

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A SPYDER surface-to-air missile is fired in a test in an undated photograph. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.)
A SPYDER surface-to-air missile is fired in a test in an undated photograph. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.)

Annual Israeli arms sales reached a new record in 2021, according to Defense Ministry figures released Tuesday, with officials citing a sharp increase in demand for Israeli-made weapons.

The ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate, known as SIBAT, said defense exports totaled $11.3 billion last year, up from $8.3 billion in 2020. Exports previously hit a record high of $9.2 billion in 2017 owing to several large deals.

“Israel’s defense exports have reached double-digit figures for the first time, reaching a 55 percent increase within two years,” Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yair Kulas, the head of SIBAT, told reporters on Monday.

“Demand for Israeli defense products has risen in the past year, manifesting in the sharp increase in transactions between countries, among other things,” Kulas added.

Europe was the largest purchaser of Israeli defense goods, buying 41% of total exports, followed by the Asia-Pacific region at 34% and North America at 12%.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which recently normalized relations with Israel in agreements known as the Abraham Accords, accounted for 7% of the arms purchases. Lastly, Africa and Latin America each accounted for 3%.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the head of SIBAT, Yair Kulas, during a meeting on April 12, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“Looking ahead, shifting global priorities and partnerships such as the Abraham Accords create high demand for Israel’s cutting-edge technological systems,” Kulas said.

Missiles, rockets, and air-defense systems made up the largest chunk of exports at 20%, followed by training services at 15%. Exports of unmanned aerial vehicles and drones amounted to 9% of all arms sales, as did radar and electronic warfare systems.

While Israel is well known for cyber-intelligence systems, they only amounted to 4% of all sales in the past year. Officials did not 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.

Avionics, electronic monitoring, weapons launchers, vehicles and ammunition accounted for much of the rest.

Ministry officials noted the overall number of government-to-government arms sales had more than tripled compared to the previous year, reaching over $3.3 billion.

People visit the Israeli stand at the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

“Security relations are an integral component of Israel’s political relations and our ability to cooperate with other countries, and we work to strengthen those ties and create new security partnerships,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“The peak in defense agreements in 2021 is first and foremost a means of strengthening the security of the State of Israel,” he added.

According to an independent global security think tank, Israel was ranked the 10th-largest international weapons exporter in the past five years.

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