Israel, Honduras and Costa Rica
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 missiles.
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
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 an army.
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 against Nicaragua.