Since 2003, the US has prevented Israel from selling arms to China despite Beijing’s intense interest in Israeli defense products. But as of 2011, Washington lifted its prohibition on sales to the Vietnamese People’s Army – even in large quantities – from two motives.
One was to partly compensate Israel for its loss of the Chinese market and, two, to arm the Vietnamese army with advanced weapons systems, including American components, for countering China’s expansionist drive in the South China Sea.
Its dispute with Beijing has made Hanoi in recent years one of the world’s biggest buyers of military hardware – and not just from Israel. .
An annual study of the global arms trade by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, issued on March 7, found that Vietnam was the eighth-biggest importer of weapons from 2011 to 2015, accounting for 3 percent of the global total with $4.3 billion in defense spending.
For the last two years, Israeli weapons have accounted for over a quarter of Hanoi’s annual purchases, namely $1.2 billion, with sales rapidly approaching the scale of Israel’s annual sales to India, which is a major Asian power in military terms.
A visitor to Vietnam familiar with the appearance of Israeli soldiers will spot the similarity of Vietnamese military uniforms. They may also notice Vietnamese soldiers carrying a domestic version of Israel’s TAR-21 assault rifle, the Tavor, which Vietnam’s military industry now produces under license from Israel Weapon Industries (IWI). Officers and other members of the Vietnamese security forces also carry IWI’s Jericho 941 semiautomatic pistol.
DEBKA Weekly lists some of the Vietnamese armed forces’ latest purchases from Israel:
- Various drones, mainly the RQ5 Hunter and the Hermes 900.
- Israeli-modified Gulfstream G550 surveillance and reconnaissance planes.
- Fourth-generation Spike antitank and antipersonnel missiles with HEAT warheads.
- Anti-ship Gabriel missiles and surface-to-air Barak missiles.
- Light and heavy artillery including Israeli Lynx MLRS rockets and missiles as well as LAR-160 MLRS systems.
- Various land, air and sea radar systems.
- An advanced Israeli air defense system.
Vietnam has also ordered 36 Sukhoi Su-30MK2 warplanes, six Russian kilo-class submarines with cruise missiles, six fast attack craft and six stealth frigates. All these Vietnamese submarines, jets and boats will be fitted with weapons systems and other technology devised in Israel.