ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Before the current cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed and about and about 70 Israelis died - most of them soldiers in Gaza. A few people inside Israel were killed. Israelis say, that's largely the result of unique Israeli-made technology - a missile-defense. Over the decades, a byproduct of the threats and wars fought by Israel is a homegrown weapons industry that has made it one of the world's biggest arms traders. NPR's Jackie Northam filed this report.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Israel's Ministry of Defense selected Rafael to develop the Iron Dome.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: This hard-charging video shows the Iron Dome, a mobile missile defense system, knocking short-range rockets out of the sky with precision and protecting Israeli communities. The Iron Dome was developed in Israel to meet its specific needs - stopping short-range missiles in from places like Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon. Isaac Ben-Israel, a former director of the Defense Ministry's research and development program, says, there was no technology in the world capable of doing that, so Israel had to develop its own system.
ISAAC BEN-ISRAEL: We did it because of our unique threat and our unique problem. This is what we do since 1948.
NORTHAM: Wars usually boost a country's weapons and technology sectors, as they have in the U.S. While conflict is a loss for Israel's economy overall, it provides a boon to the country's arms manufacturers. Says Barbara Opall-Rome, the Israel bureau chief for the U.S. magazine Defense News...
BARBARA OPALL-ROME: Now, in the past five years, Israel has been registering more than 7 billion in new arms contracts signed. And it puts them in the top five of the world's arms-exporting nations.
NORTHAM: In the latest operation against Hamas, new types ammunition - bombs that can penetrate reinforced concrete buildings and other equipment - have been introduced on the battlefield. Opall-Rome says, a new anti-guided missile defense system Trophy performed well during ground operations in Gaza.
OPALL-ROME: It means a lot on the international arms market. And Israel certainly makes very good use of their added value in that these systems are combat proven.
NORTHAM: Many people would object to that, saying, the Israeli weapons are not so precise and caused heavy Palestinian civilian casualties during the recent conflict in Gaza. And those casualties are cause for one of the biggest limitations Israel faces in selling weapons - the Arab boycott of anything made in Israel.
OPALL-ROME: Because the whole Arabian Gulf market, which is the number one market for purchasing of foreign-made weaponry - that's cut off to them. China is cut off to them because of U.S. security concern. And lately, even Russia - Israel is under some pressure to consider U.S. national security concerns in any type of arms that it sells to Russia.
NORTHAM: Opall-Rome says, India is one of Israel's biggest customers, buying everything from ship and air defense systems to anti-tank missiles and drones. She says, Israel is a tiny market, so it's arms industry needs to export nearly 80 percent of its goods in order to break even.
Also, some of the weapons are so unique that no one wants or needs them. Take, for example, the Iron Dome. It's only proven fairly effective against unsophisticated Hamas rockets, and no other country faces a similar short-range threat. The same holds true for the Arrow, an anti-ballistic missile system. Uzi Ruben, the former head of Israel's missile defense program, says, the Arrow was designed to destroy long-range missiles coming from Iraq or Iran, but...
UZI RUBEN: It started its full-scale development in about 1991. And it took about nine years build it initial operation and capability. It wasn't used it. It was never used. It was just deployed.
NORTHAM: One of the new technologies likely to emerge from this conflict will focus on detecting and destroying tunnels, like those used by Hamas to move fighters and weapons underground. Former defense researcher Ben-Israel says, it's not likely to be a big seller on the international market.
BEN-ISRAEL: No one in the world is digging tunnels in order to penetrate into, let's say, the United States of America for terrorist attacks.
NORTHAM: Still, Ben-Israel says, there will always be a global demand for sophisticated weapons and know-how - something Israel has been good at producing with each war. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Jerusalem.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.