Revealed: World customs body hires Israeli arms firm

Janet Napolitano (center), the US homeland security secretary, has praised a customs operation benefiting the Israeli arms firm Karil International. 

David Fine FEMA

An Israeli arms company is benefiting from an international customs operation aimed at detecting illicit chemicals.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has admitted buying equipment from Karil International, a firm which numbers the Israeli military among its top clients.

Jeffrey Wickett, manager of the WCO’s Programme Global Shield, told me: “To assist customs and other front-line law enforcement officials quickly identify suspicious chemicals, without unduly impeding legitimate trade, the WCO is working with several detection companies testing a variety of products. I can confirm Karil International is one of these companies and that the WCO has purchased a modest number of ‘test kits’ to support selected WCO members conduct product testing in the field.”

Wickett claimed that his program is focused on trafficking in “precursor chemicals used by criminal organizations, terrorist groups and insurgents for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that endanger the lives of innocent civilians across the globe.”

The WCO’s professed concern for “innocent civilians” — and the inference that Karil International shares that concern — should not be taken at face value.

“All types of weapons”

A blurb for Karil International available on the website for the Israeli industry ministry says that the firm manufactures components for “all types of weapons systems.” It adds: “Our systems are deployed in operational forces worldwide, including US Army, IDF [Israel Defense Forces], and additional law enforcement and defense agencies.”

The Israeli military inflicts human rights abuses against innocent civilians in the West Bank and Gaza on a daily — indeed, hourly — basis.

I asked the WCO for more precise details about its transactions with Karil. I also asked if the organization had drawn up any guidelines that could allow it decide whether or not it was ethical to do business with Israeli arms companies.

Wickett did not answer these questions.

Upsurge in violence

He did, however, send me a brochure, citing estimates by the US National Counterterrorism Center that 11,600 “terrorist” attacks occurred around the world in 2010, “representing a 2,600 percent increase in attacks over 10 years.”

Assuming that the estimate is accurate, it prompts an inescapable conclusion. Far from deterring violence, the “war on terror” declared by the US in 2001 has led to a dramatic upsurge in violence.

Yesterday was a typically bloody day. As well as the appalling attack on the Boston marathon (the perpetrator of which remains unknown), there was a series of car bombs in Iraq, killing more than 50 people. Such attacks have proliferated since the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq began a decade ago.

Within that decade, the US has also been the main financial supporter of the Israeli occupation, enabling a manifest injustice to fester.

Powerful

Headquartered in Brussels, the WCO doesn’t tend to grab many newspaper headlines. It is a powerful body nonetheless. Bringing together 176 countries, it helps set standards to regulate global trade.

Like some other groupings with “world” in their titles, it is heavily influenced by the US. Programme Global Shield was initially launched by America’s Department of Homeland Security in 2010. Janet Napolitano, the US secretary for homeland security, has sung its praises on occasion.

Israel, of course, is keen to promote itself as a leading exporter of “homeland security” technology — a euphemism for arms and surveillance equipment.

According to its industry ministry, Israel’s unique selling point is that no other country has been able to draw on such a large pool of experienced military and police personnel and “no other country has been able to field test its systems and solutions in real-time situations.” The “real-time situations” have involved countless acts of terror and repression against innocent civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.

The WCO’s Wickett told me that one objective of the work he is overseeing is to “eventually develop a list of potential products administrations may choose to purchase that can assist them to quickly identify rogue shipments.”

So there is a high probability that Karil International and other Israeli firms will win more contracts from customs and law-enforcement authorities. It is deeply offensive that authorities which brag about keeping us safe are rewarding firms that thrive on occupation and apartheid.

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It is part of Israel's cynical strategy to offer safety- and security equipment, originally used for the control and oppression of the Palestinians, to the whole world. States and organisations who buy these equipments should be aware that, by doing so, they beome compicit of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanitiy. I wonder why HRW are so silent about this.

David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War (Pluto, 2013). His earlier book is Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto, 2011).