The Uzi submachine gun is part of popular culture—featured in television, movies, and video games, handled by famous actors worldwide. This popular weapon, known for its compact nature and reliability, originated in a tiny Middle Eastern country called Israel. Although only borne of necessity, the military industry is one often associated with Israel, whose scientists might largely agree that they would rather be inventing other things…and in fact, the industry has become about much more life affirming products than weapons.
The origins of the Uzi are a case in point of ingenuity in a time of urgent need, in British Mandate Palestine. During the 1920’s and 30’s, the Haganah (the military movement which preceded the IDF) needed to manufacture weapons in order to protect the Jewish population against Arab rioters, which the British were failing to do. The Haganah formed underground weapons factories, churning out hand grenades, explosives, and other small firearms. After Israel declared independence in 1948, these secret factories formed the basis of the Israel Military Industries (IMI). Today, the three largest weapons companies are the IMI, the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), and the Rafael Arms Development Authority. All three manufacture conventional arms and advanced defense systems.
Until the 1967 Six Day War, IMI mainly manufactured small arms, like the Uzi, and provided basic defense weapons. Larger and more sophisticated weaponry, such as aircraft, was purchased from foreign countries, most notably France. After the 1967 war, France placed an embargo on arms sales to Israel; Israel responded by beginning production of its own large-scale weapons. The IAI, which until this point had been a maintenance facility, started producing its own aircraft, including the Kfir, the Arava, and the Nesher. The IMI continued production of assault rifles and ammunition, and added aircraft and rocket systems and armored tanks to its repertoire.
While a project to produce an all-Israeli military aircraft failed, the innovations and modern technology created during the project were channeled to related fields, leading Israel to become a top manufacturer of products such as unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and advanced radar systems. Israel’s UAVs are considered the global standard for such products.
After the Cold War, the demand for weaponry decreased, and many of Israel’s leading military scientists brought their technology with them to the civilian sector; the fields of medicine, internet, cellular communication, and robotics have all benefited from the technology originally advanced in the defense industry.
The Israeli military industry does not just manufacture—it seeks to share its knowledge and teach, following in the tradition of the many scholars who have come before it. IMI conducts anti-terrorism training to Israeli civilians, and contracts its teaching services to countries all over the world that require training in anti-terrorism measures. In addition, the Metropolitan College of New York, as part of the requirements for its Master’s in Public Administration in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, sends its candidates to Israel, to receive intense training with Israel’s top security experts.