Selling Weapons to Violent Regimes

From Ynet, March 17, 2018

Israel is the 7th largest exporter of weapons in the world, according to the SIPRI report. Over the past five years, the export of Israeli weapons systems climbed by 55 percent compared to the five years that preceded it, which is the biggest increase among the top 10 arms exporters.

Almost half (49%) of Israeli weapons exported from 2013 to 2017 went to India, 13% to Azerbaijan and 6.3% to Vietnam....

According to the SIPRI report, Israel provided India and Azerbaijan with, inter alia, loitering munitions (known as a suicide drone).

There have been reports the Israeli IAI Harop drone, which is said to be a suicide drone, was seen in battles between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Video footage published by the Washington Post in 2016 purports to show an IAI Harop drone crashing onto targets in Armenia....

Israel's arms sale to Azerbaijan also led to a scandal. Israeli company Aeronautics reportedly carried out a "live demonstration" of an attack of one its suicide drones on a military post in Armenia at the request of Azerbaijan's military. The Israel Police's Lahav 433 unit, in conjunction with the Defense Ministry, launched an investigation against the company "about a deal with a significant client." A gag order has been placed on all details of the investigation and the names of the suspects.

Israel is also the third-largest arms provider for South Korea, Italy and Britain.

In arms imports, Israel is 17th in the world, according to the report. Israel has increased its import of arms by 125% over the past five years. Sixty percent of this weapon came from the United States, including 50 F-35 fighter jets, only nine of which has so far been delivered.

ועוד תניא אין מוכרין להם לא זיין ולא כלי זיין ואין משחיזין להן את הזיין ואין מוכרין להן לא סדן ולא קולרין ולא כבלים ולא שלשלאות של ברזל אחד עובד כוכבים ואחד כותי
And furthermore, it is taught in a baraita: One may not sell weapons to gentiles or the auxiliary equipment of weapons, and one may not sharpen weapons for them. And one may not sell them stocks used for fastening the feet of prisoners, or iron neck chains [kolarin], or foot chains, or iron chains. This prohibition applies equally to both a gentile and a Samaritan.

Why do you think the rabbis prohibited selling weapons to non-Jews?

What are some potential reasons?

מ"ט אי נימא דחשידי אשפיכות דמים ומי חשידי האמרת ומייחדין עמהן אלא משום דאתי לזבונה לעובד כוכבים
Abaye analyzes this baraita: What is the reason for the prohibition against selling these items to Samaritans? If we say that they are suspected of bloodshed, that is difficult: But are they suspected of this? Didn’t you say that one may seclude oneself with them, which indicates that they are not suspected of bloodshed? Rather, it is prohibited to sell these items to Samaritans because they will come to sell them to a gentile. According to this reasoning, it should likewise be prohibited to sell a donkey to a Jew who is suspected of selling animals to gentiles.

Samaritans are a group of Jews that split off from the Jerusalem community very early in history. By the rabbinic period there were some Samaritans living up north, but they were not integrated into the remainder of the Jews.

According to this source, why shouldn't Jews sell weapons to Samaritans?

א"ר דימי בר אבא כדרך שאסור למכור לעובד כוכבים אסור למכור ללסטים ישראל ה"ד אי דחשיד דקטיל פשיטא היינו עובד כוכבים

Apropos the baraita that discusses the prohibition against selling weapons, the Gemara relates that Rav Dimi bar Abba says: Just as it is prohibited to sell to a gentile, it is prohibited to sell to an armed bandit who is a Jew. The Gemara clarifies: What are the circumstances of this prohibition? If the thief is suspected of killing, isn’t it obvious that it is prohibited? After all, he is the same as a gentile.

ואי דלא קטיל אמאי לא לעולם דלא קטיל והב"ע במשמוטא דזימנין דעביד לאצולי נפשיה

And if he is a bandit who does not kill, why not sell to him? The Gemara answers: Actually, Rav Dimi bar Abba is referring to a bandit who does not kill, and here we are dealing with a bandit who steals, as sometimes he makes use of his weapon to save himself when he is caught.

אמר רב אדא בר אהבה אין מוכרין להן עששיות של ברזל מ"ט משום דחלשי מינייהו כלי זיין אי הכי אפילו מרי וחציני נמי אמר רב זביד בפרזלא הינדואה והאידנא דקא מזבנינן א"ר אשי לפרסאי דמגנו עילוון:
Rav Adda bar Ahava says: One may not sell blocks [ashashiot] of iron to gentiles. What is the reason? It is because they forge weapons from them. The Gemara asks: If so, then even hoes and axes should not be sold to them, as they too can be used to forge weapons. Rav Zevid said in response: The ruling of Rav Adda bar Ahava was stated with regard to Indian iron, which is of a superior quality and used only for crafting weapons. The Gemara clarifies: And as for the fact that nowadays we do sell all weapons, Rav Ashi said: We sell the weapons to the Persians, who protect us.

What twist does this place on the prohibition of selling weapons to non-Jews? How might it impact the issue for us today?

(יד) כָּל שֶׁאָסוּר לִמְכֹּר לְעַכּוּ''ם אָסוּר לִמְכֹּר לְיִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהוּא לִסְטִים מִפְּנֵי שֶׁנִּמְצָא מַחֲזִיק יְדֵי עוֹבְרֵי עֲבֵרָה וּמַכְשִׁילוֹ. וְכֵן כָּל הַמַּכְשִׁיל עִוֵּר בְּדָבָר וְהִשִּׂיאוֹ עֵצָה שֶׁאֵינָהּ הוֹגֶנֶת אוֹ שֶׁחִזֵּק יְדֵי עוֹבְרֵי עֲבֵרָה שֶׁהוּא עִוֵּר וְאֵינוֹ רוֹאֶה דֶּרֶךְ הָאֱמֶת מִפְּנֵי תַּאֲוַת לִבּוֹ הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט יד) "וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשׁל". הַבָּא לִטּל מִמְּךָ עֵצָה תֵּן לוֹ עֵצָה הַהוֹגֶנֶת לוֹ:

(14) Whatever must not be sold to a heathen must not be sold to a Jewish bandit, since this will encourage a criminal and misdirect him. So too, anyone who misdirects a person, blind on any subject, by giving him wrong advice, or encourages a criminal, who is blind and cannot see the way of truth because of his greedy lust, is transgressing a prohibitive command, as it is written: "You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14), meaning that if a man comes to you for advice, you should give him an advice fitting his needs.

(ח) כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאֵין מוֹכְרִין לְעוֹבֵד כּוֹכָבִים דְּבָרִים שֶׁמַּחֲזִיקִין בָּהֶן יְדֵיהֶן לַעֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים כָּךְ אֵין מוֹכְרִין לָהֶם דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ נֵזֶק לָרַבִּים כְּגוֹן דֻּבִּים וַאֲרָיוֹת וּכְלֵי זַיִן וּכְבָלִים וְשַׁלְשְׁלָאוֹת. וְאֵין מַשְׁחִיזִין לָהֶם אֶת הַזַּיִן. וְכָל שֶׁאָסוּר לְמָכְרוֹ לְעוֹבֵד כּוֹכָבִים אָסוּר לְמָכְרוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הֶחָשׁוּד לִמְכֹּר לְעוֹבֵד כּוֹכָבִים. וְכֵן אָסוּר לִמְכֹּר כְּלֵי נֵזֶק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל לִסְטִים:

(8) Even as it is forbidden to sell to idolaters things which uphold their hands to idolatry so it is forbidden to sell them things wherein there is a menace to the public, for instance, bears, lions, weapons, iron fetters, and chains; it is likewise forbidden to sharpen their weapons for them. And, everything which is forbidden to sell to an idolater is also forbidden to sell to an Israelite who is under suspicion that he might resell it to an idolater. It is likewise forbidden to sell instruments of harm to robbers who profess to be Israelites.8Ibid. 15a–16b.

לפרסאי דמגנו עלן - ונראה דאנן נמי שרינן השתא למכור לעובדי כוכבים כלי זיין מהאי טעמא:
"To the Persians, who protect us" - It seems that we are also permitted nowadays to sell weapons to gentiles from this reason.

(ו) הָיוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל שׁוֹכְנִים בֵּין עוֹבְדֵי כּוֹכָבִים וְכָרְתוּ לָהֶם בְּרִית, מֻתָּר לִמְכֹּר כְּלֵי זַיִן לְעַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וּגְיָסוֹתָיו, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁעוֹשִים עִמָּהֶם מִלְחָמָה עִם צָרֵי הַמְּדִינָה, לְהַצִּילָהּ, וְנִמְצְאוּ מְגִנִּים עֲלֵיהֶם, שֶׁהֲרֵי הֵם שְׁרוּיִים בְּתוֹכָהּ.

If Israel was dwelling among non-Jews, and they made a covenant with them, they may sell weapons to the king's servants and his troops, for they make war on their behalf with the enemies of the state, to save them, and it turns out they protect them, for they (the Jews) are dwelling in their midst.

As Israel began to develop its arms industry in the 1950s and ’60s, it became clear that the industry could not support itself (and therefore provide the IDF with necessary weapons) unless it also exported these powerful products. As Amir Bohbot and Yaakov Katz document in The Weapon Wizards, this trade also spawned a significant financial boom to a fledging country with economic struggles while providing important incentives for foreign countries to develop friendly relations with Israel. Yet it also raised deep ethical questions, as clients like Chile and South Africa committed human rights atrocities.

In the late 1970s, Tel Aviv chief rabbi Chaim David Halevi cited medieval precedents to argue that any sales made to allies would secure mutually beneficial results, even while noting that Israeli sovereignty placed Jews in a radically different political position. Rabbi J. David Bleich reached a similar conclusion, though he indicated his uncertainty as to whether current Israeli policy fully complied with halachic criteria: “Sale of arms to nations allied with Israel by means of a formal or informal security pact would be justified. Absent such agreement, arms sales would be forbidden unless absolutely necessary by virtue of other considerations in order to protect life, e.g., as part of a barter arrangement designed to secure material necessary for self-defense.”

Because of reported sales to rogue nations with unethical leaders, other scholars raised serious objections to the Israeli arms industry in the early 1980s. Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni contended that international arms sales could be justified only when they involved nations that had Jewish citizens to protect or would adhere to principles of ethical warfare. Otherwise, Israel was providing a “stumbling block” that encouraged unethical behavior by aiding and abetting rogue nations. The fact that these countries could purchase weapons from other dealers could not justify any Jewish participation in the shedding of blood, especially if the Israeli weapons were deemed uniquely advantageous.

The most trenchant critique was launched by Britain’s chief rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits. He accused Israel, Britain, the United States and other Western countries of greedily following the ways of the biblical Esau. In his words, “The rationalization that such exports are required to sustain the supply-nations’ own arms industry for self-defense lacks every moral basis, at least in Jewish teaching. You can never save your own life at the cost of threatening or taking another.”

Rabbinic defenders of the Israeli arms industry have responded that even when mistakes are made, the Talmudic and medieval precedents fully legitimize selling weapons to foreign nations if the goal is to buttress Israel’s own defense. Although military exports bring Israel into murky moral waters, they are a tragic part of the complexity of foreign affairs in a world in which swords, not plowshares, continue to hold sway.

In the particular case of Myanmar, it remains hard to understand what financial, diplomatic, or military advantage is procured from selling weapons to this insignificant country while it is in the midst of a horrific civil conflict. Jewish law reluctantly permits weapons sales when they produce concrete security advantages, but not when meager benefits are greatly overshadowed by aiding horrific bloodshed. I join Rabbi Yuval Cherlow in calling for expanded ethical overview of such sales to ensure that Israel properly balances its strategic needs and moral duties.

The writer, author of A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halachic Debates, directs the Tikvah Overseas Students Institute and is a presidential scholar at Bar-Ilan University Law School.