Maintains Robust Arms Sales With Rogue Regimes
- Human rights activists are stepping up efforts to
expose Israel’s long and covert history of supplying
weapons and military training to regimes while they
actively commit massacres, ethnic cleansing and
of Israel’s trade with rogue regimes has been thrust
into the spotlight again after revelations that it
is sending weapons to Myanmar, in defiance of a US
and European arms embargo.
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar was condemned last
month by the United Nations for
conducting what it
called a “textbook ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya,
a Muslim minority. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya
are reported to have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh
in recent weeks, after evidence of the torching of
entire villages, massacres and systematic rapes.
not divulged details of its ties to Myanmar’s
military government, but public records show that it
has sold the military there armed patrol boats, guns
and surveillance equipment. Myanmar’s special forces
have also been trained by Israelis.
Protest outside parliament
rights groups are set to stage a protest outside
Israel’s parliament on October 30, calling for an
immediate halt to the weapons sales to Myanmar.
firms have also broken with the United States and
Europe by supplying weapons and surveillance
equipment to militias in South Sudan, where a civil
war has raged since late 2013. Some 300,000 Sudanese
are believed to have been killed in the fighting.
a human rights lawyer, has submitted a spate of
petitions to the Israeli courts in an attempt to
bring to light details of Israel’s trade with such
regimes. He said the cases were designed to hasten
war crimes investigations of the officials and
Western states sell arms, but what’s unique about
Israel is that, wherever war crimes and crimes
against humanity are being committed, you find
Israel is present,” Mack told Al Jazeera.
companies selling the weapons, and the officials who
quietly approve the trade, must be held accountable.
Otherwise, why would this ever stop?”
that Israel’s collusion with Myanmar’s military was
part of a pattern of aiding rogue regimes that went
back decades and reflected the importance of the
arms trade to Israel’s economy.
the summer, it was
Israeli defence officials approve 99.8 percent of
all requests for arms export licences.
As well as
fuelling the current violence in Myanmar and South
Sudan, Israel has been accused of clandestinely
providing arms used in notorious past episodes of
genocide and ethnic cleansing in places such as
Rwanda, the Balkans, Chile, Argentina, Sri Lanka,
Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Israel also
cultivated close ties to apartheid South Africa,
a genocide researcher at Israel’s Open University,
said that Israel’s supply of weapons to regimes such
as Myanmar should be compared to the sending of arms
to Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
sales turn me and all Israelis into criminals,
because they are sent in our name,” he told Al
Jazeera. “We are abetting genocide.”
Defence minister ‘lied’
human rights groups to shed light on Israel’s
collusion with Myanmar have so far been frustrated
by Israeli authorities and the courts.
Minister Avigdor Lieberman of “lying” when he
claimed in parliament last month that Israel’s
policy in Myanmar accorded with that of the
refused to disclose information of arms exports to
the military government during a hearing at Israel’s
Supreme Court last month on a petition to halt the
sales. Lawyers for the state insisted on closed-door
sessions when discussing relations with Myanmar.
three judges hearing the case
issued a gag order
to prevent publication of their decision, widely
assumed to have approved the continuation of arms
sales. They justified the blackout on the grounds
that publicity risked damaging Israel’s foreign
last year, the same court
rejected a petition
demanding that officials release documents showing
Israel’s role in arming Serbian forces that carried
out massacres of Bosnians in the 1990s.
are waiting on hearings in a host of other cases
concerning South Sudan, Rwanda, Chile, Haiti and
August, Israeli officials
argued before the
Supreme Court that its exports to militias in South
Sudan were “lawful”.
Evidence suggests that Israel sold rifles and
surveillance equipment to militias and the army in
South Sudan. A UN report
found that the
Israeli-made Ace and Galil rifles were in widespread
No oversight of permits
the Supreme Court is due to hear a petition on
Israel’s involvement in Rwanda, where it reportedly
armed Hutus who carried out genocidal attacks
that there were a handful of officials in the
Israeli Defence Ministry overseeing some 400,000
annual permits issued for weapons sales. “That means
in practice, there is no oversight at all,” he said.
companies, meanwhile, are authorised to sell arms to
some 130 countries, though activists say there are
other states with which Israel deals covertly.
Israel is the only major weapons exporter that has
consistently bucked the global trend of a downturn
in arms sales. In March, it was reported that
Israel’s weapons trade in 2016 was worth some
$6.5bn, up from $5.7bn the year before. That
included a 70
percent jump in sales to Africa.
African states accused of widespread human rights
abuses were among more than 100 countries that
attended the annual
Israel Defence Exhibition, a weapons trade fair, in
Biggest exporter per capita
tiny size, Israel is believed to be the sixth
biggest arms exporter in the world – and the largest
one per capita.
made arms sales integral to the Israeli economy,
accounting for possibly as much as 8 percent of
gross domestic product. As many as 100,000 Israeli
households are reported to be dependent on the arms
an investigative journalist with the Haaretz
newspaper who writes under a pseudonym, said there
was a long history of what he called “Uzi diplomacy”
– referring to the Israeli sub-machine gun that
became a favourite with security forces around the
world from the 1960s onwards.
countries want the best arms, then they probably go
to the US and Europe. But when no one else will sell
to you, then you turn to Israel,” he told Al
benefits for Israel are not just measured in money.
Often even more important are the diplomatic and
strategic alliances Israel can gain from this arms
Rebuke from US
that mounting international outrage over the plight
of Myanmar’s Muslim minority provided an opportunity
to shine a light on Israel’s long role in supporting
regimes in the midst of ethnic cleansing and
what sounded like a rare rebuke to Israel, Nikki
Haley, the US ambassador to the UN,
said last month:
“Any country that is currently providing weapons to
the Burmese military should suspend these activities
until sufficient accountability measures are in
the Israeli courts have blocked access to documents
that could shed light on what arms have gone to
Myanmar, activists have been able to identify some
dealings from open sources.
September 2015, Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of
Myanmar’s army, posted on social media details of a
trip” to Israel
that included visits to leading Israeli weapons
manufacturers and a meeting with the Israeli
military’s chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkott.
later, Michael Ben Baruch, an Israeli defence
ministry official in charge of exports, visited
Myanmar to meet its army’s top brass to sign a deal
for patrol boats.
afterwards, the website of TAR Ideal Concepts, an
Israeli company, posted images of its staff training
Myanmar special forces and teaching them how to
handle Israeli-made Corner-Shot guns.
A conduit for drones
Israel has also been acting as a conduit for Chinese
weapons, including drones, to Myanmar, allowing
Beijing to bypass the embargo.
no statute of limitations on war crimes and crimes
against humanity, so we will keep putting Israeli
officials under pressure till the trade stops,” Mack
said. “They will have to endure a regular ‘walk of
shame’ in the courts, forcing them to explain their
policies and why the documents remain secret.”
that Israel’s success in arms dealing was intimately
tied to five decades of its control over the
occupied Palestinian territories.
companies exploit Israel’s long experience there to
sell arms, arguing that the weapons and training
have been tested in real-world conditions.”
said that Israel appeared to be indifferent towards
the victims of the violence it helped to stoke. This
was especially evident during the so-called “Dirty
War” in Argentina, through much of the 1970s, when
30,000 left-wing activists were “disappeared”, he
said. Israel is
believed to have
supplied the military government there with some
$700m in weapons.
killed, probably some 2,000 were Argentinian Jews,”
he said. “Israel knew that the weapons it was
selling were being turned on Jews, but that did not
stop it selling arms. It simply didn’t care.”
Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and
winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for