Arms trade has two sides; the export by one is the import by the other. Arms export is controlled in most countries but import is not. Although it may have large and long term consequences for security and human rights. Not in the country importing, but in the country of export.
Since Ankara started the invasion of northern Syria in October 2019 arms exports to Turkey are discouraged by the European Union. The Dutch government calls this an “effective signal to Turkey” in answers to parliamentary questions on Dutch military imports from Turkey. The government is of the opinion that arms export control is aimed at “preventing the use in human rights violations or territorial aggression” and arms imports are “only controlled in respect to domestic safety.” Defence Turkey reports that in the first two months of 2020 The Netherlands was a major importer of military products from Turkey, with a value of $ 16 million. The Dutch government was not able to confirm this figure. It could only provide information on the acquisition of services and goods for the overhaul and modification of the Stinger launching system, to be fitted to Dutch military Fennek vehicles.
An arms industry without exports is not viable and sales abroad are essential for its existence. An arms industry gives a country greater independence and freedom for military and foreign policy. Turkey has a right to defend its security, but the reason for strict arms export measures is that it exercises this right in a way the Netherlands and other EU countries do not agree with. In such a situation, differentiating between exports and imports is at least a bit peculiar.
Another remarkable import concerns contracts for military simulation technology for the Dutch armed forces built by a consortium between Israeli Bagira and Dutch Van Halteren in Bunschoten, a small Dutch village. Arms imports from Israel have been questioned several times in the past decades. Not the least because of its use in internal and external conflict. Like Turkey, Israel has a different view on security policy in the Middle East as most European countries.
Israeli arms are attractive because Israel has advanced military research and technology, but also because its arms are combat proven. In the case of simulation technology, this means that scenario’s are based on operations outside the gates. “An operation in the heart of Gaza, a patrol along the Lebanese border, a West Bank roadblock, and an extrication mission from deep behind enemy lines – the simulators at the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] Ground Training Center at the Tze’elim base prepare IDF commanders for various combat scenarios from the comfort of an air-conditioned room” starts an article on military simulation by Bagira under the title ‘As Close as it Gets to Enemy Territory.’
Training and simulation
Training is key for military forces and simulations is becoming more important to exercise skills in the high-tech environment that battlefield is today. The Bagira simulation equipment and tools are not only to train combat, but also to learn how to deal with “the Israeli and foreign media when warfighters enter a combat zone.” The company provides military technology to IDF and trains 150,000 Israeli military personnel annually. According to its director Yaron Mordechay Mizrachi it is: “part of the IDF long-term program.” He continues: “We maintain on-going, close contacts with the IDF command and with the elements that develop the combat doctrines, as we would be called upon to develop simulations for the future training programs.”
The simulator cooperation between Van Halteren and Bagira is just one of the aspects of the relationship. Bagira represents itself as an international player; it produced 40 simulators for the Israeli armed forces (30 of them for IDF), the Netherlands and Thailand. The Thai sale is connected to the simulators sold by the Dutch company, the Integrated-Howitzer Crew Trainer (I-HCT) for LG1, M101 and L119 105mm artillery. Cooperation with Van Halteren opens the road to more exports. The HCT is for example sold to the Netherlands and exported to twelve other international customers. Van Halteren artillery simulation is integrated at Israel’s National Traning Centre at Ze-elim Base with the Bagira supplied Joint-fires BattleSpace Simulator (JOBSS). Israel military forces is using artillery during operations against Palestine territories, including civilian neighbourhoods, at several occasions (see e.g wiki).
Import should be controlled
To underline the closeness with Van Halteren the Israeli company has established Bagira Netherlands B.V. at the premisses of Van Halteren in Bunschoten. According to the Chamber of Commerce the Dutch branch is directed by Yaron Mizrachi, the CEO of Bagira, and by Sagi Mizrahi of the Armaz Group, an umbrella company covering different branches of Bagira.
The whole Bagira-Van Halteren packet is strengthening Israeli defence and training for operations which are condemned regularly by the international community, like after shelling of an unarmed farmer in 2018. Arms imports should be evaluated just as arms exports, with respect for peace and human rights. Support for the building of a defence industrial base in the countries where the arms are bought should be part of the evaluation of an arms transaction, as it might have devastating long term effects on the ability to control military technology.
Martin Broek 04/2020
Explosive Stuff is the Stop Wapenhandel blog on international and Dutch arms trade