Australia has dumped an expensive – but apparently worthless – “crime-fighting” system bought from an Israeli arms maker.
In 2013, the Australian Federal Police signed a 145 million Australian dollar ($102 million) contract with Elbit Systems to buy a database “used by Israeli security agencies in their battles with Palestinian militants.”
The system was reportedly “developed in the Middle Eastern flashpoints of Gaza and the West Bank.”
But last month, Jane Halton, director general of Australia’s finance ministry, ordered the contract canceled – even though tens of millions of dollars had already been sunk into it.
The Australian Federal Police told the technology industry publication ITNews that the decision was taken because “there would be significant challenges in meeting project objectives in terms of functionality, time for delivery and cost.”
According to heavily redacted documents obtained by ITNews under Australia’s freedom of information laws, the Elbit project went through a major review in October 2014, just months after Israel’s devastating attack on Gaza.
While there is no indication that human rights concerns played a role in the decision to dump Elbit, activists in Australia have strongly protested dealings with the Israeli weapons maker.
In August 2014, during Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, activists from the Melbourne Palestine Action Group locked down an Elbit Systems factory in the suburb of Port Melbourne, occupied the building’s roof and displayed a banner reading “Elbit drones kill kids in Gaza.”
“We want to send a message to the world to divest from Israeli companies and not to deal with Elbit Systems,” activist Jacob Grech explained at the time. “We are calling on the Australian government to end its contracts with Elbit Systems which include all army communications and the new [Australian Federal Police] database.”
Tested on Palestinians
Israeli weapons, surveillance and population control systems are often marketed as “battle-tested” – on the captive Palestinian people.
Israel systematically carries out violent night raids on Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank for the sole purpose of collecting information on the entire population.
Such information would almost certainly be stored in, and perhaps used to develop and test, the types of “intelligence” databases Israel sells abroad.
The cancelation of the Australian deal will be a setback to Israeli efforts to market its supposed know-how in these fields.
After the deal was signed in 2013, Bezalel Machlis, Elbit’s CEO, said “Australia is the most important market for us. We’re proud that the Australian Federal Police chose us to provide them with these unique capabilities.”
This is not the first time a country that has fallen for Israeli marketing has ended up with a costly lemon.
In 2011, the Obama administration canceled a “virtual fence” along part of the Arizona-Mexico border after the US had already spent $1 billion on it. A subsidiary of Elbit was a key contractor in the project.
This expensive failure did not deter the Obama administration from awarding Elbit another $145 million contract for a new “virtual fence” in early 2014.
Within months, however, US lawmakers and the Government Accountability Office were raising questions about the new Elbit contract, suggesting that it looked a lot like the failed system it was replacing.
Buying Israeli technology field tested in the context of brutal military occupation and colonization is certainly unethical and promotes the abuse of human rights – as Brazil’s Rio del Sul state concluded when it canceled a major deal with Elbit last year.
The experiences of Israel’s closest allies show it is often bad value for taxpayers’ money as well.