Israeli Defence Industry: The Journey Of Military-Tech Superpower

Many of the things that make Israel famous but one is more relevant than others: Advanced weapons & self-dependant Defence Industry. Such a small country Israel is surrounded by its adversaries from birth becomes today an example of military supremacy. Israeli Defense Industry is the most employment generator sector and plays a vital role in Israel’s GDP. So, how Israel makes it possible & what is the current military might of Israel?

Military Strength of Israel

Today, Israel’s defense forces consist of 3 service branches: Israel ground forces, Israel Airforce, and Israel Navy. David Ben-Gurion founded the Israel defense forces in 1948. The IDF has a special forces unit named Sayeret Matkal for special ops like military intelligence, rescue, and counter-terrorism. Today, Israel has a military strength of 1.7 lakh active personnel and 4.6 lakh reserve military personnel. In addition, about 27 lakh personnel are fit for military service in any war-like conditions.

Israel has a world-famous foreign intelligence agency Mossad to gather intelligence about foreign adversaries and counter cross-border threats. 

Presently, Israel has a self-reliant defense industry, which not only fulfills IDF needs but is capable of supplying arms to friendly foreign nations. Israel’s defense industry produces every type of small arms and body protection gear, artillery, tanks, and ballistic missiles. Moreover, Israel has the technology to make military boats, submarines, drones, and fighter jets. Israel’s Iron dome and newly developed Iron beam defense systems are the headlines of newspapers.

Israel has a Jericho series of ballistic missiles (Jericho 1, Jericho 2, Jericho 3). These can carry warheads from 400 kg to 750 kg from the range of 500 km to 6,500 km.

Further than that, Israel is a nuclear arms capable country and it can do a nuclear attack in a range of 6,500 km. Not only missiles, but Israel also have nuclear attack submarines and bombs. According to SIPRI, Israel has a stockpile of 90 nuclear warheads in January 2022.

Journey of the Israeli Defense Industry

The story of Israel’s defense industry began before Israel’s foundation. Actually, from 1882-1903 Jews immigrated to Jerusalem on a large scale from Europe, mainly Russia. Its period is known as the First Aliya. In 1918, the rule of the Ottoman empire was over, and Now Jerusalem was in control of the British mandate. After this many periods (Second Aliyah, Third Aliyah,..) Jews immigration was continuously happening.

In 1920, Jews established their defense organization Haganah against terrorism and discrimination from Arab extremists. In 1924, Technion, the first Institute of technology was established. In 1933, Israel Military Industries (IMI Systems) was founded. It is a state-owned enterprise to produce small arms, military vehicles, tanks, and other accessories. In 1944, As a part of the British forces, the Jews brigade was formed. 

Israel of Post-Independence

On 14 May 1948, the 30 years long British mandate was over. On the same day, the State of Israel was proclaimed. On 15 May 1948, 5 Arab states invaded tiny Israel. After this, the first Arab-Israeli war happened that’s also known as the war of independence. This year, The Israel defense forces were also established.

Israel started making small weapons and explosives in the 1930s. The First Arab-Israeli War was fought with stun guns, grenades, light mortars, flamethrowers, and anti-tank guns. The majority of these weapons were produced in Israel with surplus USA machinery acquired as scrap after WW2. Weapons were left after the departure of the Britishers and a facility was set up to repair and overhaul the weapons left in WW2.

In 1954, Israel designed the Uzi submachine gun, which is used not only by Israel but by the security forces and military of many nations. It became a major export success, providing needed revenue for the Israeli arms industry.

Read more:- Explained: Is Tavor Still Good Enough For Our Special Forces?

After the Czechoslovak arms deal of 1955 and the 1956 Sinai War or Suez crisis, Israel accelerated its domestic arms manufacturing. Israel’s decision to become a major producer of arms came following arms sanctions imposed by France, the main supplier of arms, just before the outbreak of the Six-Day War of June 1967 (3rd Arab-Israeli war). And the same time the Soviets began pouring massive quantities of sophisticated weapons into the Arab states. Soon after this, a devastating war broke out. Israel still came out the victor but the next round of hostilities was already brewing. And the conflict revealed the strategic vulnerability on the part of the Israelis and their reliance on foreign military suppliers. 

The 1970s: Began a New Era of Israel’s Defense Industry

If Israel was to survive the next few decades it had to do something different since it could never match the Arabs in terms of Manpower, weaponry, and finances. Israel could either innovate or disappear. It sharpened the mind and Israel embarked on a nationwide program to foster a new defense industry.

Israeli lawmakers tapped into the Jewish tradition for scholarship and transferred those human resources into research and development. A substantial portion of the GDP was devoted to R&D more so than any other country. 

At the same time, in 1979, a new military unit known as The Talpiot project, was created where recruits were observed and innovated. Members of the Talpiot had previously demonstrated outstanding academic ability and science and science and leadership potential. They were selected and embedded in each branch of the Israeli from infantry, engineering, and artillery to intelligence and aerospace. The Talpiot recruits learned the ins and outs of the military and then joined the research and development program.

Similar training programs were later created to attract new talents into the ranks of the military. For example, the employment of veterans in high-tech and engineering companies so if you were part of a tank crew and you had experience in armored warfare you would be encouraged to join the development of combat vehicles.

While these reforms were being implemented Israel did something else that was quite unusual. It demolished the bureaucracy, splitting the officials from scientists and entrepreneurs. As a result, the military was able to swiftly and easily communicate its need to lawmakers, investors, and academics. 

An Unusual Move To Being Creative Armed Forces

Where most militaries in the world frown upon argumentation between ranking officers. In Israel, it became an acceptable practice, junior soldiers were free to argue with high-ranking officers because it promoted creativity and deflected group thinking. 

To this day, these reforms remain unique to the state of Israel and they are nearly impossible to replicate. An example of Israel’s military creativity is its initial drone technology of Israel. 

Military Drone Technology

In 1969 Israel lacked intelligence on Egypt’s military deployments in the Suez canal. So Israeli researchers developed a toy plane for long flight hours with a camera attached. It was the first military used spy drone and it provided invaluable intelligence on the Egyptian trenches built along the Suez canal.  The success of this toy plane laid the bedrock of the high-end Israeli aerial drones that we know today and the succeeding aerial drones would play a decisive role in the conflicts with Syria. Israel is considered to be the leading UAV exporter in the world. According to the SIPRI, Israeli defense companies were behind 41% of all drones exported from 2001-2011.

Merkava: Main battle tank

Meanwhile, Israel had been talking with Britain to acquire a new type of main battle tank. The deal was close to signing but the British backed away at the last moment such as Israel tapping into the human resources of its veterans and designing an indigenous tank the Merkava. Israel started working on Merkava in 1970 and rolled out into service in 1979. Today, Israel operates Merkava Mk.4 and it comes in the top 10 advanced MBTs in the world. In addition to the Israeli army, the Philippine army also operated an armored vehicle-launched bridge (AVLB) variant of the Merkava.

Merkava Mk.4 tank
Merkava Mk.4 tank

Satellite Technology

Another breakthrough happened in the mid-1970s when the Americans provided the Israelis with a new method of satellite surveillance. But the system was not good enough, lacking in strategic depth Israel needed real-time imagery. In 1983, Yuval Ne’eman, an Israeli theoretical physicist, military scientist, and politician founded the Israel space agency with help of the Israeli government. And in September 1988, Israel launched its first satellite Ofeq-1 from Palmachim Airbase in Israel. To date, Israel has launched many reconnaissances, communications, observation, and SAR-based observation satellites. Israel can launch satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) with its indigenous Shavit launch vehicle.

Left - Shavit launch vehicle & OFEQ -1 (Right)
Left – Shavit launch vehicle & OFEQ -1 (Right)

US Aid To Israeli Defense Industry

The underlying factor that accelerated Israel’s technological advances was American support. Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US foreign assistance, and in 2001 that aid totaled a staggering amount of $81 billion. This aid was crucial for nurturing the Israeli arms industry. Israel’s reconnaissance satellites would play an instrumental role during the Gulf war of 1991. Some analysts maintain that Israel is a strategic ally for the United States and that relations with the former will strengthen the latter’s influence in the Middle East.

Air Defence System

In the 1990s, Iraq fired many Scott missiles into Israel. It shook the military establishment of Israel. Israeli satellites could track hostile missile launchers but missiles and rockets are cheaper, smaller, and more readily available. The danger does not come from hostile states but also non-state terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In the backdrop of the Gulf war, hostile non-state actors were firing dozens of rockets into Israeli settlements.  For a daily use case, a new type of air defense system was needed to eliminate the threat altogether so the Israeli pushed for a new defense system, and within a few years, they delivered 3 new weapons: Iron Dome; ARROW; David Sling.

Iron Beam air-defense system
Iron Beam air-defense system

Recently, Israel developed a new laser air defense system called Iron beam that was cheaper and more advanced than the Iron dome. This is the world’s first energy-based weapons system that uses a laser to shoot down incoming UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], rockets & mortars at a cost of $3.50 per shot. 

Today’s Israel Defense Industry

Israel ranks number 1 in the world with 4.9% of its GDP spent on research and development. Israel spends 6% of its GDP on education with 37th rank all over the world whereas India stands at 144 with 3.1%.

Israel is one of the world’s major exporters of military equipment, accounting for 10% of the world’s total in 2007. Three Israeli companies were listed on the 2017 SIPRI index of the world’s top 100 arms-producing and military service companies: Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries, and RAFAEL.

It is also a major player in the global arms market and is the 6th largest weapons exporter in the world as of 2014. There are more than 150 active defense companies based in the country with combined revenues of over $3.5 billion annually. Much of the exports are sold to the United States and Europe. India is also a major country for Israeli arms exports and has remained Israel’s largest arms market in the world.


Prem Prakash

I am a defence lover with the skill of writing, not firing.

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