FIFA World Cup 2014: A Gateway to Israel-Brazil Defence Ties

ISSSP Reflections No. 17, July 3, 2014

Author: Mr. Alvite Singh Ningthoujam


Bandeiras_Israel_BrasilThis is the time of the year when football fans across the globe have headed towards the land of the Samba dance for the ongoing FIFA 2014 World Cup extravaganza. In order to make this mega event incident free, the Brazilian security establishment has taken all the possible precautionary measures. This is where the diminutive state of Israel comes into the scene. Although Israel’s national football team does not represent the country in the current tournament, Israel’s presence is felt across Brazil. The 2014 FIFA World Cup has brought significant business to the Israeli arms industries with ensuing military and diplomatic incentives. As a result, for Israel and Brazil, this World Cup event is a bridge to closer military cooperation and expansion of their bilateral arms trade.

In light of declining exports to North America and Europe due to the defence budget cuts and the pullback of American troops from Iraq and ensuing one in Afghanistan, the expanding arms trade with Brazil is very timely for Israel. At present, apart from the Asia-Pacific region, which is a major Israeli defence market, Latin America is re-emerging as a major destination for Israeli defence exports. Of the estimated US$ 7.5 billion Israeli weapons and military technology sales worldwide, $604 million account for Latin America’s defence purchases from Israel. This is indicative of the robustness of the arms trade between the countries in Southern America and Israel.

Even in the past, especially during the 1970s and ‘80s, Latin America was a continent where Israel’s ‘arms sales diplomacy’ yielded commendable success. However, with transition from dictatorial to democratic regimes, Israel’s sales of arms to the region got significantly reduced. That said, over the recent years, many countries such as Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, etc. have established significant military-security links with Israel, and also benefitted immensely from the latter’s arms sales.

The Game and the Business: Israel-Brazil Arms Trade and the Obstacles

Today, Brazil, the host of the most widely-played game on earth, is giving lucrative business to Israel. During 2013, security technology alone accounted for 18 percent of Israel’s $1.1 billion exports to Brazil. Brasília also purchased a few military-security items from Israel for deployment during the games. Its government is believed to have spent approximately $1 billion on security measures alone, as terrorists threats and protests loom large during the event.

Some of the defence items imported by Brazil from Israel include unmanned drones, electronic warfare systems, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance systems, radar and anti-missile systems, equipments for border patrol, wireless infrastructure, etc.  Factors such as constant arms and drug trafficking, natural resources theft, combat against heavily armed warlords, and other illegitimate activities have attributed to the purchase of the above items.

Brazil’s long borders running up to approximately 60,000 kilometres have made it necessary to deploy tactical systems to prevent illegal cross-border movements and related activities. To this end, major Israeli defence firms such as Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems have supplied sophisticated weapons systems to Brazil. Furthermore, Israeli companies such as Ceragon, Risco Group and NICE Systems have also made their own contributions for the smooth conduct of this global event.

In 2013, Israel and Brazil agreed to jointly develop an unmanned aircraft, specifically for reconnaissance missions during the ongoing world cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Elbit System’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL Sistemas teamed up with Brazilian firms Embraer and Avibras for this venture. While Avibras would get nine percent stake in this venture, AEL and Embraer would receive 40 and 51 percent stakes, respectively.

Earlier, in 2009, IAI and Brazilian corporation Synergy Group, EAE, formed a similar joint-venture for providing technology and expertise to the Brazilian market, including maintenance and customer support services for IAI’s systems that are in use in Latin America. These programmes signal the transformation of Israel-Brazil military cooperation from that of mere seller-buyer relations to that of a collaborator.

Further, for assisting the surveillance of the football stadiums and the crowd, Brazil’s Air Force recently purchased drones from Israel at a whopping cost of $12 million. While the Brazilian forces operate Israel’s Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), technical and engineering support along with maintenance and logistical services is provided by AEL to the Brazilian Air Force.  Intelligence-gathering technologies have been helping in mitigating the several security challenges during the world cup matches. Israeli-made UAVs have become sought-after because of their enduring capabilities to function under difficult climate and terrain conditions, and also due to their capability to loiter for longer durations when compared to other UAV systems.

Apart from the mega Israeli defence industries, smaller Israeli firms such as Tel Aviv-based Ceragon are reportedly updating Brazil’s wireless infrastructure for the ongoing World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Its contribution accounts for nearly “30% of the wireless infrastructure in Brazil”. Additionally, the 44,000-seated Arena Pantanal status in Cuiaba has been implemented with command and control systems and advanced security systems produced by Israel’s Risco Group. Their functions are multidimensional, ranging from lighting to control of gates, doors, press boxes, VIP enclosures, turnstiles, etc. The deal is estimated at $2 million.

Similarly, NICE Systems also supplied Brazilian government agencies with a system called Situator, which gives instant access to real-time videos collected from “control systems, video systems, perimeter intrusion sensors, location tracking (RFID, GPS), panic buttons, environmental sensors and communication devices”. This enhances the surveillance mechanisms in and around the match venues. In fact, the earliest use of Israeli-made drones came to notice when the Brazilian police tracked down and nabbed the drug gang leader, also-known-as “Little P”, in March with the help of Heron UAV fitted with a heat-sensing camera.

It should also be noted that Israel-Brazil arms trade are not devoid of hassles. Any cooperation, particularly military cooperation with Israel is always under surveillance in Brazil. In 2010, a prominent ruling party in Brazil criticised the anticipated use of Israel-made drones by the Brazilian police. One of the leaders, also called on the social activists of Brazil for greater cooperation with the Palestinians against Israeli oppression. This issue flared up when Brazil signed an agreement for the purchase of Israeli-made Heron UAVs for Brazilian law enforcers, at an estimated cost of $350 million. Given the above, both the countries have always treaded cautiously, and continue to do so even today.

Moreover, with the increase of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Brazil, many activists have demanded an embargo against Israeli arms sales. Recently, during the April-2013 Latin American Aerospace and Defence (LAAD) exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, several demonstrators called for a Brazilian boycott of Israel, and even demanded an end to the purchase of Israeli weaponry by the Dilma Vana Rousseff government. In the midst of this, IAI offered Brazilian Navy several manned and unmanned platforms for the latter’s land-based and maritime surveillance requirements. Many civil society organisations in Brazil condemn military contacts with Israel and Tel Aviv’s emergence as one of the top five arms suppliers for Brasília. Moreover, with anti-Israel resonance gaining momentum, it will be really interesting to see the extent to which both the countries carry forward their military cooperation.

Looming Potential Competition

Notwithstanding criticisms, Brazil is likely to continue importing arms from Israel because of the rising threat perceptions along the borders and within the country. Israeli weapons systems are regarded as sought-after in Brazil, particularly in terms of military drones, as US companies are unable to carry out trade in this item due to tighter export restrictions. American companies still need permission from the State Department for sale of drones to foreign companies and apply the same for South American countries as well. That said, this might change and the US is likely to enter the markets in southern America as American companies such as General Atomics have already announced their readiness to sell Predator drones to a some US allies in the Middle East.

This, in a way, is going to escalate competition between Brazilian and Israeli firms such as IAI and Elbit Systems in the field of drones.  Even the American companies may get engulfed into the competition should they succeed in foraying into Latin America. Brazil has been boosting its military spending since the last few years, with a major emphasis on drones. However, Israel-made drones currently dominate the Central and South American markets, namely Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela.


Given the prevailing security concerns in Israel and Brazil, their military cooperation has emerged as an important binding thread in their bilateral ties. Moreover, their shared national security challenges are likely to sustain such cooperation for some time to come. In view of this, more arms deals are likely to crop up in the near future. This is where Israeli arms exports will continue to play an important role in running its R&D programme, and also in promoting its foreign policy objectives. Simultaneously, preserving these ties will be Israel’s utmost priority as its isolation widens within and outside the Middle East and with arms sales dwindling in traditionally large US and European markets of North America and Europe.

About the Author

Alvite Singh Ningthoujam is a PhD researcher at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He also served as a Fellow at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Centre for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Israel (2010-2011). He can be reached at alvite_n[at]yahoo[dot]com

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