Israel, Honduras and Costa Rica
excerpted from the book
Israel Foreign Policy
excerpts from a book by
South End Press, 1987
Honduras was one of Israel's first arms
customers in Central America. Between 1975 and 1977, this second
poorest of all countries in the Western Hemisphere bought 20 French
super-Mystere fighter planes from Israel. Delivered at a time
when it was U.S. policy to discourage the acquisition of sophisticated
weaponry in Central America, these were the first supersonic aircraft
in the region; some were equipped with Israeli-made Shafrir heat-seeking
The Hondurans bought a range of other
Israeli arms: Arava STOL aircraft, a fleet of armored vehicles
mounted with recoilless rifles, and Galil rifles and Uzi submachine
guns. For all its poverty, when Ariel Sharon visited Honduras,
he was calling on one of Israel's three biggest clients. In the
wake of Sharon's visit came more arms and training-both in Israel
and Honduras for officers, pilots and troops.
In 1981, Israeli radar operators were
at work at a Honduran airbase. Honduran officials never chafed
at the Israeli presence-on the contrary, on one occasion, exasperated
with the on-again off-again contra war, Honduran military leaders
suggested that Israel, Chile, Colombia or Brazil take over the
contra program for the U.S. Gen. Julio Perez, the Honduran army
logistics chief, signed false end user certificates for Israeli
weapons shipments to the contras.
Israel also benefited from the fits and
starts with which Honduras assented to serve as a U.S. "aircraft
carrier." In October 1986, in an effort to get Honduras to
agree to tolerate U.S. training of contras on its soil, the U.S.
revived the notion of selling the Hondurans advanced aircraft.
Emblematic of Israel's in-touch status in Honduras, before Washington
could prepare the papers for the F-5Es it was offering, Israel
had the Tegucigalpa government's signature on a preliminary agreement
to buy 24 Kfir combat aircraft-a deal that could be worth as much
as $200 million. To coax their quick agreement, Israel had assured
the Hondurans that Washington would finance the deal. An incredulous
State Department official said no such approval had been given.
At the time the Jerusalem Post said that the National Security
Council would have final say on the arrangements. Later it would
be revealed that the Kfir sale was one side of a quid pro quo
which would have sent Israeli advisers to the contras. Still later,
the Kfir sale fell through.
Someday it may be precisely known how
great a role Israel played in subverting the government of Costa
Rica to accede to Washington's use of its territory as a secondary
base in the war against Nicaragua. More is presently known about
how the U.S. bribed Costa Rican officials to turn a blind eye
to the contras; how they ran a CIA and then a "private"
operation the northern part of the country, which included foreign
mercenaries, drug running, a clandestine airstrip, and at least
two assassination attempts and managed to exercise a progressively
greater influence on the small, relatively democratic nation's
media, as the contra campaign wore on.
Israel, however, had the inside track.
Luis Alberto Monge, elected to the Costa Rican presidency in 1982,
is probably one of the strongest Zionists in Central America.
Formerly Costa Rican ambassador to Israel, during his presidential
campaign Monge promised to move Costa Rica's embassy to Jerusalem,
while his foreign-minister-to-be said that the National Liberation
Party would hold relations with Israel to be a "principal
preoccupation." In May 1982, Costa Rica became the first
government to return its embassy to the city which all other nations
had deserted when Israel annexed and declared Jerusalem its undivided
capital in 1980
Costa Rica did not have an army, but it
did have one of the highest foreign debts in the world, and that
gave Israel somewhat of a handle. Soon after his election, Monge
met in the U.S. with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who
introduced him to a number of leading bankers thus helping him
to renegotiate Costa Rica's debt to private banks.
Begin pressed Monge hard to abandon the
neutrality Costa Rica had maintained since 1948, in effect seconding
the words of Reagan's UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, that if
Costa Rica wanted aid from Washington, it would have to create
Begin offered military aid and in January
1983 the Costa Rican Public Security Minister visited Israel,
touring defense plants and meeting with Defense Minister Sharon,
Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir had been in
Costa Rica the previous October and offered non-military cooperation.
Limited amounts of Israeli military aid
began to flow to Costa Rica's police forces, and Israelis came
to train the security police, special tactical squads and intelligence
agents. Israelis themselves carried out various "intelligence
activities" in Costa Rica.
Israel's parastatal Tahal collaborated
with with U.S. AID to develop a border barrier comprising roads,
electronic barriers, and an agribusiness/ settlement scheme. It
was an open secret that this installation was part of the campaign