Cristopher Cramer of New Hampshire-based Kollsman died on 15 January after a “three story tumble from the window of the Sahara Makarim Hotel in the city of Tabuk” according to a Fox News report this week. Kollsman is a subsiduary of Elbit’s US branch.
The company told Cramer’s family that he had committed suicide, a claim the family disputed, pointing to panicked voicemails and text messages he sent in the hours prior to his death.
According to the Fox report, Cramer texted an associate saying, “I’m at the Marakim tabuk hotel in Saudi. I think something bad is going to happen to me tonight. Please contact state dept ASAP. Bad things were said.” Cramer also left several voicemails with his friend and family attorney “saying he was in danger and to call the State Department.”
After Cramer’s family disputed the suicide claims Kollsman backed away and in a statement said: “Like the family, we are eager to learn more about his death and are in continuous contact with the US Department of State to strongly encourage their assistance in obtaining the final report of the local police regarding the circumstances surrounding Chris’ passing.”
Further questions remain about Israeli arms companies operating in Saudi Arabia, despite the two nations having no official diplomatic nor economic relations. According to the Fox report, Cramer was in Saudi Arabia to demonstrate and sell Elbit’s TOW anti-tank missile systems.
But in a posting on Facebook Cramer’s nephew Chris Arsenault said Cramer was in Saudi Arabia to “save his company the embarrassment of selling millions of dollars worth of sub-par weapons systems to the Saudi Army.” Whether the sale has already happened or is prospective, the TOW missile sale would not be the first military encounter between the two countries.
History of Saudi-Israel links
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel helped fund and train royalist forces in the north of Yemen during the Yemeni civil war that took place between 1962 and 1970. The opposing republicans in the south were sponsored by Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Shalom Yerushalmi reported for the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv in March 2014 that Saudi Arabia was a prime economic sponsor of Israel’s campaigns of cyber-warfare and targeted assassinations against Iran’s nuclear program. Referring to a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC conference, Yerushalmi noted that Saudi Arabia “gives us tremendous funding in the campaign we fight against Iran.”
There is a substantial difference, however, between covert cooperation against mutual enemies and direct arms sales from to Saudi Arabia from an Israeli company. Saudi public opinion is strongly pro-Palestinian and the nation was the site of a large boycott, divestment and sanctions victory in October 2011 when Alstom lost its bid for an $11 billion railway contract in the kingdom.
This would not be the first time Israel has sold TOW missiles to a country with which is has no relations. Most famously Israel sold Iran several TOW missile systems in 1985 as part of what became known as the Iran-Contra affair (Robert Pear, 14 December 1986, “The Story Thus Far: Assembling Some of the Pieces of the Puzzle.” New York Times, p.D1). Additionally Israel provided TOW missiles and other arms to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army during the Second Sudanese Civil War (Jacob Abadi, 1999, “Israel and Sudan: The Saga of an Enigmatic Relationship.” Middle Eastern Studies, 35:3, p. 31).
The police in Tabuk in northwestern Saudi Arabia have not released any public information about Cramer’s death and none of the released voicemails or texts from Cramer point to a specific motive behind his death. None of Elbit’s statements refer to arms sales between Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Saudi government has not released any public statement about Cramer’s death nor prospective arms purchases from Israel.