Will Trump Tap Israel to Build the US-Mexico Border ‘Smart’ Wall?

A man walks past a mural painting with Arabic writing warning people not to work as agents for the Israeli intelligence on the Palestinian side of the Israeli ‘smart wall’ border terminal along the Gaza strip. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

The Wall—it needs no other name or introduction—is about to take shape. Hundreds of companies have been vying for the job. Now, eight have been awarded up to $500,000 each for the honor of bidding on a plan for the construction of the wall, which will create a separation between the United States and Mexico. The budget for 2018 to build the 2,000 mile structure is $3 billion.

The race is on. Four of the companies must provide a hard, solid wall made of components of their choice. The four other companies were instructed to present either a smart wall or a see-through wall.

The challenge is to provide a prototype. After the eight designs have been submitted, the proposals will be judged, and the contract to build what is probably the most talked about structure in modern times will be awarded. Of the $3 billion allocated toward the wall, $1 billion is to be directed to the smart wall projects.

Elta North America, one of the companies participating in the tender, caught my eye. Like many other high-tech weapons contractors, Elta North America is headquartered in the great state of Maryland. What sets Elta North America apart from the competition, however, is that they are actually a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). They were among the group of four selected to provide a plan for the smart wall, a field in which they have vast experience and a proven track record.

Elta, or IAI, is already providing fencing for top-secret U.S. military bases, airports and other federal facilities. They are also the creators of the radar and the “guts” of the enormously successful U.S. counter missile weapon—known as the Arrow—and of the Israeli Iron Dome, which gained prominence for intercepting and destroying missiles aimed at Israel during the First Gulf War.

The technology Elta has developed for American and Israeli fighter jets is second to none. Even more importantly, Elta (IAI) is the world leader in drone development and technology.

When President Donald Trump was first introduced to Israel’s smart walls, he was impressed by their effectiveness. One of the Israeli walls, which separates Israel and Egypt, is designed as a restraint to hold those hoping to flee Africa via Egypt into a safe haven in Israel. (As an important aside, while considered a Middle Eastern country, Egypt is technically and geographically African.)  The second smart wall is an anti-terror wall between Israel and Gaza.

Unfortunately, in Trump’s praise for Israel’s wall, the U.S. president spoke only of the wall with Egypt—and noted that the Israeli wall served a different purpose than the wall he intended to build on the border with Mexico. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jumped right in to clarify the situation.  Presumably, Netanyahu was motivated to put in a good word for an Israeli product, and indirectly lobby for the selection of an Israeli company to build the American wall. It was a mistake on his part to wade in on an internal U.S. hot potato.

At this stage in the decision-making process, the best bet is a smart wall over a more traditional, concrete structure—and this seems to be the prevailing direction the wall will take. A smart wall will be easier to construct, and maintain, and will probably be more effective. But it’s not a sure bet and that’s why the four cement-style prototypes were also requested.

In the end I think it will probably be a combination of the two styles. In places where it is cheaper, more effective and more efficient to use a smart wall, they will – and vice versa.

And in the end, the US wall might very well be built of Israeli technology.  Israel has a long and successful relationship with the United States in military technology and development.  It is a gargantuan industry and a productive arrangement for both countries.

Many, if not all, military contacts between Israel and the US come with restrictions and specific stipulations.  Elta has created a vehicle to take advantage of the restrictions. For instance, when the US gives Israel military aid they require it to be spent on products parts and materials produced in the US.  That’s where Elta North America comes in.  It was specifically created by IAI to produce materials in the United States.  Now Israel can make its US sponsored purchases from Elta and use them at home.

Elta North America allows Israel to bid on sensitive projects for the United States not as an international company but as a domestic military contractor.

May the best company win.