Coronavirus a boon to Israeli military tech

Israel’s military occupation is the laboratory in which its technology, later applied to civilian industries, is developed.

Shadi Jarar’ah APA images

Much of the rhetoric around the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has been militarized, inviting the harms that fear-mongering war metaphors tend to evoke.

In Israel that militarization has been more than metaphor.

A new report from the occupation profiteer watchdog Who Profits demonstrates that Israel’s defense ministry and military corporations, both private and state-owned, have “been at the forefront” of the country’s coronavirus response.

This “exposes the deep military bias that underpins the Israeli economy and political regime and the symbiosis between the civilian sphere and the military apparatus,” Who Profits states.

The Electronic Intifada has previously reported on how Israel’s notorious NSO Group, implicated in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is seeking to export its spyware for coronavirus contact tracing, which is seen as a crucial step towards ending broad lockdowns.

According to Who Profits, NSO Group is partnering with Israel’s defense ministry to “develop, operationalize and potentially export a centralized data system to rate the probability of individuals being infected with the virus.”

“Dangerous slippery slope”

Meanwhile, the Mossad, Israel’s foreign spy agency infamous for extrajudicial assassinations, illicitly obtained medical equipment, the head of its technology division told media.

Israel’s domestic spy apparatus, the Shin Bet, has provided its “massive secret database … which gathers continuous real-time data on all Israeli citizens” for contact tracing purposes.

“Allowing the Shin Bet to employ its secret, unsupervised methods in civilian affairs could create a dangerous slippery slope that might pave the way for its intervention in additional civilian realms,” Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with Adalah, a human rights group campaigning against the surveillance tracking, has warned.

Two elite Israeli army intelligence units are now conducting medical research related to the coronavirus.

Those units are the usually top-secret Unit 81, which develops advanced spy tech, and Unit 8200, widely viewed as Israel’s equivalent to the National Security Agency in the US. Reservists affiliated with Unit 8200 revealed in 2014 that they employ widespread and invasive surveillance to coerce Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip into collaborating with Israel.

The heavy involvement of Israel’s spy agencies has been covered uncritically if not breathlessly by international media outlets that omit mention of their primary focus: the repression of the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation.

As Who Profits notes, the “newfound medical calling has not taken the Israeli military apparatus away from its primary function and raison d’être, the continued military control over a civilian Palestinian population.”

That remains “the army’s ‘essential’ work,” the watchdog adds.

From military repression to civilian innovation

Who Profits has previously noted how knowledge developed in the context of the occupation and applied to seemingly benign civilian industry helps Israeli military companies promote “a sanitized version of their repressive technologies.”

The transfer of these technologies to the medical industry to combat the coronavirus once again demonstrates how “the state military apparatus functions as a laboratory, a reference, a client and an incubator for Israeli technological innovation.”

With fewer than 50 serious or critical cases at the time of this writing, Israel appears to have been successful in curbing the spread of the virus, notwithstanding its discriminatory and neglectful treatment of Palestinians.

Israel’s military companies have “new prospects for material and symbolic gain,” Who Profits states.

And having won the war on coronavirus – or at least the first battle – “the potential for future export is undeniable.”


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.