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Shir Hever: The attack on Gaza was a show piece for “Iron Dome” technology which Israel wants to sell around the world

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to the first in his first series of reports on the Israeli economy and the economics of occupation—and joining us now from Germany is Shir Hever. As I say, he’s an economist. He studies the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories for the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization dedicated to publishing alternative information and analysis. Thanks for joining us, Shir.


JAY: So let’s start this series of reports talking, obviously, about the recent Israeli attack on Gaza. What are the various factors, in your view, that led to this attack?

HEVER: In many ways this attack seems like an irrational attack. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why Israel suddenly chose to attack Gaza. Certainly we can see how the Israeli army escalated the violence by first killing a 13-year-old child close to the fence surrounding Gaza, and later by assassinating the commander of the military arm of Hamas. And now, after eight days of pounding Gaza, more than 130 people killed, the ceasefire that was achieved doesn’t really change the situation in any significant way to what it was before.

So in many ways people wonder why this entire attack was even necessary. And also, from the point of view of the Israeli economy, the Israeli side of things, this attack caused quite a lot of damage—not to be compared with the massive damage caused to Gaza, but still, from the point of view of losses in the billions of shekels, that means hundreds of millions of dollars. A lot of people who were not able to go to school, to go to work during this war, during this conflict—.

JAY: So before you kind of get into more of the political-economic analysis of this, one theory that’s being floated—and I don’t know if you have the expertise to answer this, but I wonder what you think—is that Israel wanted to actually find out whether this Iron Dome defense system worked and what the rocket capacity of Hamas actually was. People are suggesting in preparation for some possible war with Iran that if all hell broke loose, what would Israeli defenses be like. What do you make of that?

HEVER: I think we have to separate it into two things. Whether Israel wanted to know what are the military capabilities of Hamas, that’s really not the way to find out, and I don’t think that’s how they would go about finding out, by starting a conflict and seeing what Hamas can launch at them. That’s why there’s intelligence. And for that purpose, they have other means. I think testing the capabilities of Iron Dome is more important. But, of course, in order to test the capabilities of this technology, they don’t need Hamas. They can also use test rockets.

The reason that they wanted to use Iron Dome in this context is because this was not a test for the internal research and development teams of the military industries. This was a show for the rest of the world and for armies around the world what this unit is capable of doing. And, of course, this will be translated immediately into sales.

Iron Dome was developed by a company called Rafael. Rafael is a state-owned company, although many of its factories have already been sold to private companies and many of the components in the system are actually produced by private companies. And these companies are gradually becoming one of Israel’s most important forms of export. And Israel is well known around the world for being a country that produces state-of-the-art military technology, especially in the field of unmanned drones, in the field of optical systems, and now also in the field of anti-rocket units, anti-rocket missiles.

The Iron Dome cost the Israeli government a lot of money. And if you compare the cost of those makeshift rockets that Hamas is putting together from pipes and homemade explosives, each of them is estimated to cost about $100 to $150, and you compare it to the Iron Dome system, which launches $50,000 missiles into the air trying to intercept those Hamas rockets, and they have to launch several of those in order to effectively intercept the Hamas rockets, then it’s ridiculous in terms of costs. But the Israeli government is bearing the costs.

When this system will be also bought by the U.S. army, by the British army, and by other countries around the world, then the profits are not going to go into the pockets of the Israeli government, into the Israeli treasury, but it’s going to go to those private companies. So we can see those people who are also profiting from the attack. I think these companies that profit from war, from conflict, are becoming more and more influential in Israeli politics and Israeli decision-making.

JAY: What are other examples of the privatization of Israeli security?

HEVER: Well, I think the main example we see in the checkpoints. The large checkpoints surrounding the Gaza Strip and inside the West Bank have been all privatized into the hands of private security companies, partially because Israel doesn’t have enough soldiers to maintain those checkpoints. So now you have these private security companies who are operating these checkpoints, and these private security companies are not content to be contractors for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, but they’re also trying to export their expertise and offering their services to airports around the world, to train security forces.

Right now, there are many, many contracts in Brazil in preparation for the next soccer World Cup, buying unmanned drones and expertise from Israeli private companies. So the whole privatization of security has many faces to it. And the idea, of course, is not just to provide these new technologies to show that they work and to sell them; the idea is also to try to change the entire way in which the world is economically and socially constructed, and to offer a kind of alternative management system for the wealthy countries, for the hegemonic countries in the world, by which they can keep the wealthy part of the human race in a state of gated community.

JAY: And hiring Israeli companies to help them do this work.

HEVER: Yeah. This is the concept of fortress Israel. And the recent attack on Gaza was an example how you have a fortress Israel, which means a country that makes absolutely no attempt to resolve its diplomatic and political problems, makes no attempt to try to find a solution to the occupation, to end the occupation, to achieve peace with its neighbors. That has been off the agenda of the Israeli government for years, and this is the main motive that the Israeli government has been repeating time after time, there is no partner for peace, there’s no one to talk to, because they want to stress that there is another alternative. Instead of talking with your neighbors, instead of recognizing their rights and achieving peace, you could simply maintain a sort of military superiority that will always give you security in all situations, even during a situation of conflict.

JAY: Right. Now, there was also a lot of discussion about the domestic politics of all this. What’s your thoughts on that?

HEVER: Well, Netanyahu is in a very interesting and unique situation in a way, because on the one hand, he does not really have any contenders that can compete with him. There is no political leader in Israel who is anywhere near as popular as Netanyahu and likely to be able to form a government. So the upcoming election seemed to be a sure thing for Netanyahu.

But then Netanyahu started to suffer a series of setbacks, mainly from the economic side of things, because Israel has a very serious crisis of inequality and growing poverty and a very serious housing problem and cost-of-living problem which is eroding the middle class. A lot of people are very concerned about the economic situation, and there were quite massive social protests in the last two summers, which are growing in their ability to affect the public perception of priorities, what the government is supposed to give to the public.

And Netanyahu realizes that he cannot really meet the demands of the protest movement and at the same time continue his policy of supporting the illegal colonization of the West Bank and strengthening the army and strengthening his corporate buddies. So Netanyahu actually declared he’s not going to reveal his budget for the next year until the election. And he had to push the election a bit earlier just so that his government will not fall for not approving the budget, so he can keep the budget secret until after the election. Well, of course, this is pretty big news, and a lot of Israelis would seriously consider not voting for someone who refuses to reveal their upcoming budget and where they’re planning to cut, whether it’s education or health or other public services.

But this attack on Gaza served Netanyahu by completely changing the discourse and putting all the social issues on the backseat and out of the headlines of the mainstream media. Suddenly people were only talking about the war, the danger, the conflict, Hamas, and in that sense Netanyahu doesn’t have anyone who can compete with him, because he’s joined forces with the extreme right party, Yisrael Beiteinu, who’s headed by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, an extreme right-wing politician. Anything more to the right than Netanyahu and Lieberman is the abyss. There is actually almost nothing further to the right. And anything—all the zionist parties to the left are not really to the left. None of the Zionist parties have condemned the attack on Gaza. None of them has suggested that maybe there was a nonviolent way to resolve the problem.

JAY: And how do you explain, if these reports are correct, the overwhelming, it seems, support from the Israeli public for the attack on Gaza? There seems to be quite a consolidation of this view.

HEVER: This is, unfortunately, a tried and true way to get the Israeli public to forget everything else. There’s such a strong element of indoctrination in the Israeli schooling system that when it comes to war, when it comes to matters of security, we all have to stand together, we all have to be one front. And any kind of politician who would say, for example, this attack on Gaza could be harmful for Israel, could not—maybe doesn’t serve Israel’s interests in the best way, and there could have been a different way that Israel should have handled itself in this situation, any politician who would say that would be called a traitor, would be called a softie, and would lose a lot of popularity. And that’s something that the leaders of the social protest were completely aware of. And during the last two years, during the summer demonstrations, they held signs, and on the signs they said, we won’t let you distract us with another war, we won’t let you talk about attacking Iran instead of dealing with the socioeconomic problems that we demand you address.

JAY: Just to remind viewers that may not have followed the story, we carried quite a few stories, but some of these protests were in the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.

HEVER: Yeah. Yeah. The largest one was half a million people. And this is unprecedented in Israel.

Nevertheless, when the guns are roaring, the protests immediately collapse. And there is a kind of divide-and-conquer sort of feeling, because the rockets fired by Hamas cannot reach all parts of Israel equally. Some people feel more safer than others. Some people receive compensation from the state and some people receive less. And immediately this sort of bickering creates a situation where if someone from Tel Aviv would say, you know, we should think about cost of housing because cost of housing in Tel Aviv is so high you cannot get an apartment there for any reasonable price, then someone from the south, closer to Gaza, who is under more severe bombardment would say, you don’t have any right to speak until you come to Gaza, and this is more urgent, come to the south, this is more urgent, we are living in a state of constant fear, so our problem takes precedence. And as soon as you get into this sort of discussion, then it creates—it actually silences the political debate.

JAY: And as long as U.S. policy continues as one-sidedly in support of Israel, as it has been and is, I suppose there’s no reason for Israel to do any differently.

HEVER: The U.S. policy played a very important role in this attack, because I think Obama, prior to the election in the U.S., was genuinely concerned that Israel might make a unilateral attack against Iran, which would drive up oil prices all around the world and could ruin Obama’s chance of reelection. I don’t know exactly whether he used some kind of pressure to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, whether that was the decisive factor in Israel not attacking Iran, but the fact that Obama was reelected in the U.S. was something that Netanyahu was certainly betting against.

And everyone knew Netanyahu was supporting Romney. And the fact that Romney lost meant that a lot of people also lost some of their respect for Netanyahu because he seemed—he bet on the wrong horse. He then appeared to be a sort of opponent of Obama, and maybe Israel’s U.S. relations would not be so good.

I think the attack against Gaza is also in response to Obama’s reelection, because Netanyahu realizes he cannot really attack Iran under the circumstances. He needs a victory, because he wants to be a hero before the elections, and he knows that attacking Gaza would still give him the full support of the U.S.

Obama was visiting Burma and just released a statement that Israel has the right to defend itself and any country has the right to defend itself from rockets coming from outside its borders. Obama, of course, forgot that Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves. And he also forgot that the rockets coming from Gaza are not coming from outside of Israel’s borders, because Israel controls Gaza. Gaza is a part of Israel’s sphere of control. And, in fact, his very empty statement just boldens Israel to continue to disregard international law and to disregard human lives [incompr.]

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Shir. And as I mentioned, this is the beginning of a series of reports. Shir’s going to come join us every couple of weeks and update us on the situation in Israel. Thanks for joining us, Shir.

HEVER: Thank you very much, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you do want to see more interviews and reports like this, don’t forget we’re in the middle—there’s a Donate button over here. That’s why I’m pointing. We’re in the midst of our year-end fundraising campaign. Every dollar you donate will get matched until we reach $100,000. And if you want to see more Real News in 2013, we need you to click on that. Thanks very much for joining us on The Real News Network.


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