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Ireland spends €8.5m on Israeli surveillance drones and military equipment

Much of the money has gone to Aeronautics Defence Industries which is owned by the Israeli state and manufactures lethal drones used in Gaza

The Department of Defence has paid at least €8.5 million to Israeli arms manufacturers for military drones and other equipment in the past decade.

The money has been spent on unnamed aerial vehicles, advanced targeting equipment, ground radar systems, communications systems, maintenance and training.

About half of this money has been paid to Aeronautics Defence Industries, whose unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have played a central role in Israel’s ongoing assault of Gaza.

Aeronautics Defence Industries is owned by the Israeli government through its parent company, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.


The Irish Defence Forces operates a number of Aeronautics Defence Industries “Orbiter” drones, after first signing a contract with the company in 2007.

The remainder of the expenditure was spent on equipment, training and parts from Elbit Systems, which has its headquarters in Haifa, Israel and also manufactures lethal drones and ordnance which have been used in Gaza.

Ireland is campaigning for the EU to review its trade agreements with Israel in light of concerns about breaches of the deal’s human rights clauses during the assault on Gaza. Opposition TDs have now called on the Government to end its financial relationships with Israeli arms companies in light of the assault on Gaza.

While both Elbit and Aeronautics Defence Industries manufacture lethal drones, the Defence Forces employs only non-lethal versions of the devices. These are chiefly used by the Army for reconnaissance, surveillance and artillery spotting.

The Army also uses Elbit ground radar systems and “target acquisition” technology to detect and fire on potential adversaries.

According to procurement data from the Department of Defence, it has paid €4,503,444, excluding VAT, to Aeronautics Defence Industries since 2014. The real figure is likely to be significantly higher as the data details payments only above €20,000. It also excludes payments which may be classified for security reasons.

The same data details €2.6 million in payments to Elbit during the decade. However, figures released to People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy late last year states that more than €4 million has been paid to Elbit and its subsidiaries in the past five years.

Both companies have been involved in controversy in recent years. Various financial institutions and state pension funds have divested from Elbit, citing human rights concerns, including the company’s manufacture of cluster bombs.

This includes the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), the State’s sovereign wealth fund, which is banned from investing in Elbit along with several other defence firms.

In 2017 the Israeli defence ministry suspended the export licence for Aeronautics Defence Industries’ Orbiter 1K drone. This came after reports the company had used one of its “kamikaze” drones to attack the Armenian military while demonstrating its capability to Azerbaijani forces.

Sinn Féin’s spokesman on foreign affairs and defence, Matt Carty, said Ireland should not engage with Israeli arms companies “and the Department of Defence should not be procuring goods or services from Israeli-based companies until that state demonstrates its commitment to international law”.

Mr Murphy said it was “shocking” that almost €9 million of Irish public money had been spent on drones and other equipment from Israeli armaments companies.

“Drones manufactured by these companies are terrorising Palestinian children right now. Not a cent of public money should be going to the Israeli arms industry,” the People Before Profit TD said.

“We need a commitment from the Government that Israeli armaments companies will be excluded from any future public tenders and an immediate end to any ongoing agreements with Israeli armaments companies.”

The Defence Forces have a long history of using Israeli military equipment, including purchasing ammunition from Israeli Military Industries in 2005 and entering into a €2.5 million contract for helmets with another company in 2006.

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times