Will Israel sell weapons to a man who compared himself to Hitler and wants to kill 3 million people?
Firebrand Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte says he wants to get his guns, military equipment only from the Jewish state
Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.
On Rosh Hashanah, firebrand Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who the week before compared himself to Adolf Hitler, announced that he planned to purchase all of his country’s military equipment from Israel.
In a speech at one of the Asian nation’s synagogues, Duterte told the congregants he had instructed his national security adviser, retired general Hermogenes Esperson, to “not buy from anyone except from Israel.”
The controversial Philippines president had come to the synagogue in order to again apologize for comments he made the week before, comparing his desire to “slaughter” the country’s three million drug addicts with the Nazi leader’s massacre of “three million Jews” — a deeply problematic comparison, and not only because the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was six million.
“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said in his home town of Davao after returning from a visit to Vietnam on September 30.
A day later, Duterte said he apologized “profoundly” to the Jewish people, but maintained that he “will kill three million people.”
On the Jewish new year, Duterte visited the Beit Yaacov synagogue in Makati City. He again promised to “slaughter this three million drug addicts (sic),” but apologized for using “the word ‘Jewish,'” saying it was “terribly wrong.”
Moments into his Rosh Hashanah speech, the Philippines leader went off script and began speaking not only about his Hitler comment and desire to kill three million drug dealers and users, but also about his intention to purchase his military’s equipment from the Jewish state.
“In the matters of arms. I said, do not buy from anyone except from Israel,” he told the congregants.
Israel has sold weaponry to the Philippines in the past. In 2014, the Israeli Elbit Systems defense company won a tender to upgrade 28 armored personnel carriers for the Philippines Armed Forces, which were delivered in July 2015.
In February 2016, the Philippines Department of National Defense said it would be purchasing radar equipment from a subsidiary of the Israel Aerospace Industries, a defense company owned by the State of Israel, the military news outlet IHS Janes reported.
According to local Philippines media, Duterte is now interested in purchasing both surveillance equipment and weaponry from the Jewish state.
“You should get it as fast as Israel can produce it. I’m buying,” Duterte told Filipino troops on September 20.
‘You should get it as fast as Israel can produce it. I’m buying’
In his speech with the Philippines Armed Forces and again at the Makati City synagogue, the Philippines president expressed concern that countries selling military technology to him would put “bugs” in the equipment to listen in on the island nation’s conversations.
“If I get it from America, you are talking here secret — blah, blah, blah — and they are listening,” he said.
Israel, on the other hand, can be trusted, he said.
“We have excellent relations,” Duterte said. “They will not include a bug there for them to listen also to what they have sold to us.”
What will Israel do?
It’s not clear if Israel will continue to supply the Philippines with military equipment in light of Duterte’s vow to kill millions of people.
Duterte won elections in May in a landslide after pledging to wipe out drugs in society, then vowing an unprecedented crime war in which 100,000 people would die.
The ensuing violence has attracted a barrage of criticism from Western governments and rights groups, which have warned of widespread extrajudicial killings as the rule of law crumbles.
Israel’s Defense Ministry, which oversees arms exports, said it would not comment on the issue.
Those defense companies contacted by The Times of Israel who agreed to speak said they would not speculate on what will happen in the future.
Israel’s arms exports have come under international scrutiny in recent months, after evidence came to light that Israeli guns and surveillance equipment were being used in the South Sudanese civil war and other conflicts around the world.