The Central American Experience,

Israel's Arms Export Policy: An Assessment

excerpted from the book

Israel and Latin America: The Military Connection

by Bishara Bahbah

St. Martin's Press, 1986, paper

The Central American Experience

With the exception of Nicaragua, which has purchased n1 weapons from Israel since the overthrow of the Somoza government, all the countries of the region are important clients and have signed military agreements with Israel. At the end of 1982, the New York Times quoted U. S. officials as saying that Israel was the largest supplier of infantry equipment to El Salvador and Guatemala, and had a "comparable role" in Honduras and Costa Rica.' Israel's role in the region goes beyond the provision of weapons and military communications and electronics equipment to include a broad range of military assistance, such as training, counterinsurgency and intelligence advice, and military-agricultural development projects based on the Nahal-type projects of the 1960s. Moreover, Israeli-Central American military ties are fraught with a political significance which by and large has been lacking elsewhere in Latin America.

Perhaps as a result of Israel's importance as a supplier, the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica have been more forthcoming in their support of Israel than those of any other region. Guatemala, like Nicaragua under Somoza, has not supported a single UN resolution critical of Israel; Honduras has supported only four, and El Salvador and Costa Rica seven (Venezuela and Peru each supported eighteen anti-Israeli votes; Argentina 14; Mexico 13; Brazil and Bolivia 11 each; and Ecuador, 10). All the Central American states except Guatemala voted for the 1980 UN resolution condemning Israel's "Basic Law of Jerusalem" and subsequently moved their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, however, returned their embassies to Jerusalem several years later. The only countries to have done so, they incurred the anger of the Arab states.

These Central American countries are also less reticent in expressing admiration for Israel and acknowledging its help. While Argentina, Ecuador, and indeed most Latin American countries were highly critical of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Fernando Volio publicly stated that he "understood Israel's motives" and Guatemala's Defense Minister Benedicto Lucas Garcia expressed admiration for Israel's military decisiveness and willingness to stand up to Washington. Former Guatemalan President Garcia stated that Israel is "a model and an example to follow," while his successor's chief of staff called Israel "our main purveyor of arms and Guatemala's number one friend. -6 El Salvador's interim President Alvaro Magana stated that "Israel is the only country with the possibility of helping US.

As a region, Central America has all the characteristics traditionally associated with Israeli arms clients-longstanding, entrenched traditions of military rule, right-wing orientation, high incidence of territorial disputes and internal strife, and a tendency toward human rights violations-which make procurement of arms at desirable levels from other countries difficult. But what makes the area particularly interesting from the standpoint of Israeli arms exports is the light it sheds on the complex relationship between these sales and the actions or policy of the United States. Indeed, the American presence in the area is so overwhelming as to make Israel's actions essentially reactive, with its role expanding and contracting as a function of U.S. policy-expanding as a result of the human rights policies of the late 1970s and contracting as the U.S. reclaimed its place as the preeminent supplier and restored its former levels of aid in the early 1980s.

Although Israel has maintained close relations with all the Central American states, it did not become a major arms supplier to the region until the mid-1970s. As elsewhere, by turning international politics to its advantage (e.g., territorial disputes and U.S. human rights policies), Israel was able to break into a market that until the mid-1970s had been dominated by the United States.

U.S. Human Rights Policy

The Carter administration's human rights policy inaugurate in 1977 had the greatest impact on Israel's sales to Central America, particularly to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Somoza's Nicaragua, all of which had been accused of gross and systematic violations of human rights. During the five-year period following the U.S. ban on military credits to El Salvador, Israel was most active in the country, delivering rocket launchers, Uzi submachine guns, Galil assault rifles, ammunition, spare parts and "security" equipment, and the last shipments of the Arava STOL counterinsurgency aircraft. Israel reportedly supplied El Salvador with an average of 80 percent of its weapons needs prior to 1980.

Guatemala responded to President Carter's new policy by rejecting U. S. military aid altogether rather than complying with the human rights standards set by Congress. Three months after the U.S. suspension of military assistance, a cargo load of Israeli grenade launchers, Gaul rifles, Uzi submachine guns, 81-mm mortars, and 120 tons of ammunition arrived at the port of Santo Tomas de Castilla. According to opposition figures, by the end of 1977 the Guatemalan army had switched from Garaud M-1 rifles to Israeli-made Galils.

Meanwhile, Israel agreed to sell Guatemala an additional ten Arava STOL planes, which were delivered that year and during 1978.22 Five troop-carrying helicopters were also sold.

Although Israel initially denied that it was supplying weapons to Guatemala, which was coming under increasing international censure for its human rights violations, the situation came into the open on 28 June 1977, when an Argentine plane carrying twenty-six tons of arms and ammunition from Israel to Guatemala was confiscated in Barbados. According to the Excelsior, quoting the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, the government of Barbados lodged an official protest to Israel on the grounds that the arms would end up being used against Belize, although the newspaper added that the arms shipments had received the blessings of "various countries." In December Israeli President Ephraim Katzir visited Guatemala and signed a military assistance agreement with President Kjell Laugerud Garcia for the modernization of Guatemala's military and the training of officers in Israel. The country's defense minister, General Otto Spiegler, was subsequently sent to Israel "to study the purchase of arms for the armed forces." Despite the purchase of large items such as helicopters and Aravas,* most of Guatemala's military purchases from Israel have actually been small arms. Talks for the Kfir were initiated in July 1979, but the agreement was thwarted by the refusal of the United States to authorize the sale. Under a $6 million contract in 1980, an additional 10,000 Galils were purchased '29 and in 1981 it was estimated that practically all of the 25,000 men in the Guatemalan army, including the artillery units, used some type of Israeli weapons. 30 Several years later, an incident was reported in which U.S. customs agents in Florida impounded 12,000 illegally imported Israeli-made rifles destined for Guatemala.

Israeli arms sales to the Somoza regime likewise received an important boost from the Carter administration's policy. Even before the United States cut off economic and military aid to Nicaragua in November 1978,32 Israeli weapons had become critical to the regime's survival (see Table 9). The Nicaraguan National Guard's supply of weapons and ammunition was severely depleted after the September 1978 popular insurrection, and without reinforcements the government forces were not expected to be able to hold out long against the guerrillas. By 13 October 1978, the Mexican daily Excelsior wrote that Uzis, Galils, and Aravas "will determine the fate of Somoza" and that the victory "would be a victory for Israel because it will show that Israeli-manufactured weapons are reliable and trustworthy." Until the') regime's collapse in July 1979, Israel was Somoza's sole weapons supplier,* delivering helicopters, heavy combat tanks, patrol vehicles, mortars, Galil rifles, Uzi submachine guns, and even missiles. According to Newsweek, the shipments were unloaded by night from unmarked Israeli planes under the supervision of Somoza's son. Israeli technicians installed an antiaircraft defense system around the president's residence, reportedly as protection not only against the Sandinistas but against Venezuela and Panama, outspoken foes of Somoza. In response to pressure from the United States and Latin American countries, Israel finally terminated supplies several weeks before Somoza's fall and ordered home two cargo ships loaded with two Dvora missile boats and a number of armored vehicles (the arms had been prepaid in cash, which Israel did not return to the successor government on the pretext that Somoza owed some money). By that time, however, Israeli arms were so ubiquitous as to have become synonymous with the Somoza dictatorship: the Galil assault rifle was brandished as a symbol of triumph before television cameras by Sandinista soldiers celebrating their victory.

Fallout of the Sandinista Victory

The Sandinista victory totally changed the situation. The low-level insurgencies and civil wars endemic in this area of poverty and severe income disparities received a tremendous moral boost from the success of the new Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. This, in turn, helped spark military buildups and in general drew the region into an era of escalating violence. Former Somoza National Guardsmen moved into the border areas of hitherto relatively peaceful Honduras from which they launched attacks into Nicaragua. Former Sandinistas who had broken with the new Nicaraguan regime launched harassment operations from Costa Rica, the only traditionally nonmilitarist country in the region. El Salvador, too, though to a much lesser extent, hosted anti-Sandinista forces while still embroiled in its own decades-old civil war that intensified in 1979 despite a so-called "revolutionary coup" in 1979 and the presence of a civilian as the nominal head of the junta. * Only Guatemala, separated from Nicaragua by greater physical distances, has no anti-Nicaraguan forces on its soil. However, it was the scene of a guerrilla challenge of its own and the government waged a war against what it termed "Marxist subversion" and those attempting to bring about land reform. t


El Salvador

The Sandinista victory also brought Central America back to the very center of U. S. policy considerations, causing a reassessment of its human rights policies in the interests of staving off what it perceived as the spread of communism. Where possible, the United States resumed military assistance. On 28 July 1982, less than two years after the government of General Carlos Humberto Romero was overthrown, President Reagan certified that El Salvador had made significant progress on human rights. This was done even though Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the UN Permanent Commission on Human Rights had concluded that violations were escalating and that the major responsibility lay with the government security forces or paramilitary groups operating with government acquiescence. According to the legal aid office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador, a total of 12,501 people in El Salvador were murdered by the army, national guard, or various police forces and paramilitary groups during 1981. Improvement of human rights has been certified by the Reagan administration regularly since then, and the landslide victory at the polls of Christian Democrat José Napoleon Duarte in May 1984 has assured continuing congressional support for the government.

With the resumption of U. S. involvement in El Salvador on a large scale,* Israel's role has decreased, but it continues as an important weapons supplier, the second largest source of arms after the United States. In 1981 Israel was reported to have sold El Salvador an additional four Mystere B-2 bombers and in 1982 three Arava STOLs, along with less important items, including napalm. In August 1983 a delegation headed by Ernesto Magana, son of interim president Alvaro Magana, visited Israel to inquire about counterinsurgency help They met with Defense Minister Moshe Arens and were taken to see Israeli military installations and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) plants. During the visit the decision to relocate the Salvadoran embassy in Jerusalem was announced, fueling speculation about what El Salvador would receive in return.

Israel has also been accused of installing and operating electronic surveillance and data systems in El Salvador. According to Arnaldo Ramos, the U.S. representative of Frente Democratico Revolucionario (FDR), Israel has set up a computer system that monitors 1,000 phone calls simultaneously and pinpoints heavily used phones. Another system monitors people's movements, and computer terminals, some manned by Israelis, have reportedly been set up at military checkpoints. According to former Salvadoran Vice Minister of the Interior Colonel Francisco Guerra y Guerra, * the Israelis began installing a computer system for surveillance purposes in 1978.

In recent years Israel's advisory role has been more important than military hardware, especially since the United States has been limiting the number of advisors it will have in the country at any one time to fifty-five .48 An estimated 100 to 200 Israeli military advisors have been training the Salvadoran military in counterinsurgency tactics, arms maintenance, and intelligence services.



Honduras, which shares a 500-mile border with Nicaragua and hosts tens of thousands of Salvadoran refugees and exSomoza National Guardsmen, inevitably became an important staging area for clandestine U.S.-sponsored operations against the Sandinista government and the theater of military activities aimed at disrupting supply lines from Nicaragua to the guerrillas in El Salvador. These twin goals were enthusiastically embraced by Honduran Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gustavo Alvarez.* Fearing that Honduras would be the next target for "international communism," in mid-1982 General Alvarez launched what was termed a "preventive war" against Honduran leftists, who had been gaining ground as a result of the country's high unemployment and severe strains on the economy caused by a sharp decline in exports. At the same time, Alvarez was deeply involved in the organization of the Somocista forces, the antiSandinista Contras grouped into the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) operating from Honduras. In his desire for Honduras to take a more active role in combat operations with the Contras against Nicaragua and with the El Salvadoran government against the Salvadoran guerrillas, Alvarez embarked upon :an arms buildup of his own.

... Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Honduras in early December 1982 at the head of a delegation which included General David Ivri, the head of the Israeli air force, who one month later was named president of the Israel Aircraft Industries. In the course of the three-day visit, General Sharon was flown to La Ceiba on the Atlantic Coast where the Hondurans wanted to build a major military base. Sharon was also taken to two other bases in the center of the country to assess Honduran military needs.

The result of this visit was an agreement signed by General Sharon and General Alvarez which U. S. intelligence sources said would escalate Israel's involvement in Honduras to an unprecedented degree. The agreement was reportedly worth $25 million and covered the acquisition of armored tanks, rocket launchers, Galil rifles, radar equipment, military replacement parts, and, most important, twelve Kfir jet fighters. According to the Christian Science Monitor, a second phase of the agreement was to involve missiles. Although Honduras initially denied such an agreement, maintaining that the "conversations were limited to possible future economic and technology agreements," it was learned that two weeks prior to the visit the Honduran Congress had approved a constitutional amendment empowering General Alvarez to conclude armament and military training agreements.

Since Sharon's visit, the United States has stepped up its involvement in Honduras with the approval of $72.5 million in security assistance for 1985. Furthermore, some 150 diplomatic and 1,300 U.S. military personnel are permanently stationed there. The latter number has swelled to 5,000 as a result of the joint military maneuvers which have continued virtually nonstop since February 1983. American forces have built bases and airfields in Honduras and set up a regional military training center where U. S. Green Berets train Honduran and Salvadoran troops in counterinsurgency techniques.

... Honduras has also been the conduit through which Israel channels aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), the former Somoza National Guardsmen operating from Honduran territory. Early in 1983 while on a secret visit to a CIA training center in Virginia, General Alvarez reportedly inspected samples of weapons that Israel had seized from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon. According to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times, at the request of the United States Israel had begun to supply Honduras with captured PLO weapons including machine guns, artillery pieces, mortar rounds, hand grenades, and ammunition "for eventual use by Nicaraguan rebels."


Costa Rica

Costa Rica, the only country in Central America with a deeply rooted democratic tradition, was, like Honduras, drawn into the conflict because of its 320-mile border with Nicaragua. Lacking a national army, which was abolished by constitutional amendment in 194971 and replaced by a 10,000-man force divided into rural and civil guards, it is ill-equipped to enforce Its tradition of neutrality. Following the installation of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Costa Rica has been the somewhat reluctant host of Eden Pastora's Revolutionary Democratic Alliance (ARDE), a group of former Sandinistas, some of whom had used Costa Rica as a base in their struggle against Somoza before falling out with the current Nicaraguan government. The country's strong antimilitarist tradition has kept it from becoming, like Honduras, a full-fledged staging area for attacks on Nicaragua.

... in the early 1980s Costa Rica for the first time had become the scene of limited, but nonetheless real, terrorist activities.

By the time Luis Alberto Monge was elected president in February 1982, fear of further escalation caused Costa Rica increasingly to consider strengthening its meager security capabilities. Israel was a logical place to look for help* especially since direct U. S. military aid to a country which had disbanded its army might have occasioned U.S. congressional opposition. Moreover, Costa Rica had long maintained warm relations with Israel.

... toward the end\ of 1984 Israel had about 100 experts in Costa Rica working in "different spheres of development aid. "

But criticism in Costa Rica was mounting for what was seen as a departure from its traditional neutralism and a shift toward Washington. The example of Honduras, ever more mired in the military plans of the United States and faced with the specter of 14,000 jobless and armed former National Guardsmen on its territory in the event of a U. S. policy change, was not reassuring. So in November 1983 President Monge took advantage of the resignation of his anticommunist foreign minister, Fernando Volio, to proclaim "the perpetual, active and unarmed neutrality" of Costa Rica to be enshrined in the constitution.

Shortly thereafter, Costa Rica turned down a U.S. offer to build, at U.S. expense, a network of roads and bridges giving access to the more isolated areas along the Nicaraguan border. 106 The project, which was separate from but complementary to the U.S.-Israeli-Costa Rican settlement project, was rejected because it could be "considered a provocation against Nicaragua. " Distrust of American intentions can be seen in the reaction to the arrival in Costa Rica of U. S. Army Special Forces advisors to train Civil Guard officers. According to a senior Costa Rican security official, there was a "widespread perception in the country that the United States was pressing Costa Rica to militarize" and that it wanted the country to take a "more militant stand" toward Nicaragua.

Guatemala: A Special Case

Other than Panama, Guatemala is the least involved of the Central American countries in anti-Sandinista activities largely because it is the farthest away from Nicaragua and has no Contras operating from its soil. This distance from the area of conflict, combined with its steadfast refusal to make even a gesture toward compliance with U. S. human rights requirements, resulted in a singular lack of U. S. aid, apart from humanitarian aid, to the country from 1977 to 1984, when President Reagan approved a relatively modest $300,000 for military training."

During the relative absence of the United States from the Guatemalan scene, the military government subdued its guerrilla challenge and is proud to have done so without U. S. assistance. Indeed, the government attributes the success of its efforts in this regard to the lack of U. S. oversight and advice, enabling it to find its "own solutions." Such solutions-widely agreed to have been unparalleled in violence-included scorched earth campaigns, the bombing, burning and bulldozing of entire villages, massacres in the countryside, and death squad killings in the city. Although the United States remained in the background, Guatemala obtained assistance to implement these solutions from South Africa, Argentina, Taiwan, and, especially, Israel."

... more significant has been Israel's advisory role to the Guatemalan government. In addition to police and military troop training, this has involved primarily assistance in electronic surveillance systems, intelligence gathering, and military-agricultural resettlement projects in former rebel areas. It is impossible to estimate accurately the number of Israeli military advisors in Guatemala. At the time of the Rios Montt coup d'etat in March 1982, the Israeli press-which referred to the Montt coup as "the Israeli connection" because that group was "trained and equipped by Israel"-put the figure at 300." The PLO ambassador to Nicaragua, Marwan Tahbub, was more conservative, estimating the number of advisors to be 150 to 200, although his figure excluded agricultural and other advisors whose work is in fact of a military nature. Nevertheless, the presence of a large body of Israeli advisors is undisputed. Rios Montt himself told ABC News reporters that his coup had been successful because "many of our soldiers were trained by the Israelis."

... the most important aspect of Israeli assistance in Guatemala is billed as "agricultural." Aimed especially at the conflict areas such as the Frente Transversal del Norte (FTN) where the guerrilla movement is strong, this rural development is viewed by the Guatemalan government as "one of the most important political methods in the struggle against the revolutionary guerrilla movement. " Within the Guatemalan context, this rural development means, among other things, land clearing and road building in previously impenetrable areas, the destruction of hamlets thought to be guerrilla strongholds, and the forcible concentration of the native Indian populations traditionally scattered over large areas in villages into easily guarded and controlled communities. This has been achieved through the creation of cooperative model villages* in which peasants whose houses have been destroyed by the army are relocated and regrouped under army "protection. " Seventy-four such villages have been built to date by the army's Civilian Affairs Section, which is charged with the pacification of civilian populations in former rebel areas. The project has been notably successful in ending the local population's assistance to the rebels.

Central to the program's success are the civil defense patrols into which 900,000 peasants between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five have been forcibly conscripted. Armed with sticks, machetes, and old Mauser rifles in a ratio of one gun per 100 men and operating under the close supervision of the army, they are used primarily for control of popular resistance, as informants, and as manpower reserves for building roads and other projects. Their chief function, in fact, is to provide the army with a ready means of keeping tabs on virtually all men of fighting age. The pacification program also involves reeducation and literacy campaigns, and, theoretically at least, the distribution of small parcels of land.

Israel has been in the forefront of these rural development efforts. The government-sponsored cooperatives are in part based on the kibbutz model, and the civic action programs are also patterned after those in Israel. Indeed, in March 1983 Colonel Eduardo Wohlers, head of the Plan of Assistance to Conflict Areas (PAAC), stated that Israel was the principal source of inspiration: "Many of our technicians are Israeli-trained. The model of the kibbutz and the moshav is planted firmly in our minds. " Other Guatemalan military men speak of the "Palestinization" of the Native Indian populations.

Israel and the United States

On November 30, 1981, the United States and Israel signed the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Strategic Cooperation, which laid the groundwork for joint military ventures "outside the east Mediterranean zone" and called for closer collaboration between the two countries in arms sales to third countries. Even before the memorandum-which was reaffirmed and upgraded in a November 1983 security agreement that created a U.S-Israeli political-military planning group to organize joint military maneuvers and coordinate strategy-formalized cooperation between the two countries in the third world, such cooperation existed, whether explicit or otherwise. Thus, although the United States publicly expressed displeasure at Israel's persistent sales to the Somoza regime after it had discontinued its own American support, an administration official indirectly approved the supplies that propped up the regime by saying: "If Somoza goes, we would prefer to see him go peacefully, we would not like to see him toppled in an armed revolt." While the United States refused aid to Guatemala because of the latter's brutality in dealing with dissent, Secretary of State Alexander Haig reportedly asked Israel to do more there. '59 A State Department official, when asked if the United States viewed Israeli activities in the region favorably, replied: "Absolutely. We've indicated we're not unhappy they're helping out" but added, perhaps a bit disingenuously, "but I wouldn't say we and the Israelis have figured out together what to do."

However, the U.S-Israeli relationship has often been very explicit. Caught between perceived strategic national interests and congressional restraints that have limited maneuverability in Central America, the U. S. administration was obliged to circumvent these restraints by going through surrogates. Because the Israeli public was largely supportive of its arms export policies and it already possessed an extensive network in the region, Israel was perfect for the job. The use of Israel by the United States as a means of "supplementing American security assistance to friendly governments" has been on occasion strictly financial. In 1981 when President Reagan decided to send aid to El Salvador but found that the foreign aid funds had run out, he asked Israel to give El Salvador $21 million in military credits originally voted by Congress for Israel's own use, to be "repaid" the following fiscal year.

But nowhere has this mutual assistance been more significant than to the anti-Sandinista forces in Honduras and Costa Rica ...

In April 1984 when Reagan's request for further funding for covert operations against Nicaragua was stagnating in Congress, the CIA reportedly "unofficially" asked Israel secretly to support the Contras. "U.S. sources" cited in the Washington Post' noted that Israel could be repaid for several million dollars worth of unofficial assistance to the Contras through Washington's annual military and economic aid package. On January 13, 1985, the New York Times reported that some U.S. military aid to Israel was being routed to the Contras and that Israeli arms shipments of "rifles, grenades and ammunition to the rebels had picked up since the summer when U.S. aid began to run out.

Israel has shown itself more than willing to assume a proxy role, although seldom with the overtly enthusiastic zeal displayed by Ya'acov Meridor, chief economic coordinator in Prime Minister Begin's government. In August 1981, Meridor proclaimed that Israel was negotiating an agreement with the United States to sell arms "by proxy" to countries Washington felt uncomfortable dealing with directly. "We are going to say to the Americans, 'Don't compete with us in Taiwan, don't compete with us in South Africa, don't compete with us in the Caribbean or in other countries where you couldn't directly do it. Let us do it!" Far more discreet was Yehuda Ben Meir, deputy foreign minister in the Shamir government, who noted: "It is no secret that there are agreements for U.S.-Israeli cooperation, in Asian countries, Africa, Latin America and Central America. The United States, as a world power, has interests throughout the world. Israel has its / own interests in the countries of the world. In some of the places these interests overlap and the two countries cooperate.

The revival of attempts by the United States to squeeze Central America into the mold of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to present Israel's role there as part of its drive against the PLO and international terrorism can be seen as part of this campaign. Thus, references to the Marxist-Arab coalition in Central America and President Reagan's statement that "it is no secret that the same forces which are destabilizing the Middle East-the Soviet Union, Libya, the PLO-are also working hand-in-glove with Cuba to destabilize Central America, followed a month later by the statement that greater involvement in Central America would give Israel the opportunity to fight the PLO there, seem designed to prod Israel and to forestall criticism from pro-Israeli congressmen critical of U.S policies in Central America.


Israel's Arms Export Policy: An Assessment

Despite President Carter's greater scrutiny of individual arms deals, in general Israel's exports of combat equipment flourished under his administration. Indeed, it was Carter's policies of limiting the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and then of banning arms sales to systematic human rights violators that allowed Israel to enter the Latin American market in a significant way. When the United States voluntarily withdrew to a large extent from such markets as Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, Israel was able to move in. With President Reagan, the opposite situation occurred. Although more liberal concerning individual sales, his reversal of Carter's policy of restraint in American arms sales signaled the return of the United States to the region as the preeminent supplier ...

Politically, Israel has not obtained benefits from its arms transfers to Latin America. On the contrary, its position there has declined, as evidenced by eroded support at the United Nations and outspoken criticisms of Israeli policies in the occupied territories and in Lebanon. More important, its role as military ", advisor, supplier, and supporter of brutal and repressive regimes, and its growing reputation as a surrogate for the United States, have cost Israel the sympathy of large segments not only of progressive Latin American opinion, but of the local populations at large, thus canceling the goodwill generated in earlier years by j its cooperative projects. Representative of the kinds of attitudes resulting from Israel's Central American activities is the following statement in the Costa Rican-based publication, Human Rights in Central America (1980s)

Israel continues denouncing the Nazi genocides from World ') War II committed against the Jewish populations in Germany, Austria and Poland; thirty-five years later, it still pursues Nazis all over the world, but it has no reservations nor shame in cooperating with genocides of peasants in Central America, [or] the Indians of Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Anger over Israel's role has increased sympathy for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), although, contrary to Israeli and U.S. claims, there has been little evidence of any PLO involvement in Central America beyond the provision of moral support. After the overthrow of the Somoza government, the Sandinista government froze relations with Israel, and then severed them entirely during the Lebanon invasion as a gesture of solidarity with the PLO. Furthermore, the PLO representative in Managua was elevated to the rank of ambassador. In El Salvador the leftist People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) stated that Israeli interests in Latin America were being attacked in "solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle for freedom" as well as to "expel the foreigners" that had been propping up repressive regimes. When guerrillas of the FPL in Guatemala kidnapped the South African ambassador in November 1979, they demanded as conditions for his release the severance of Guatemala's ties with South Africa and Israel and the recognition of the PLO. While Israel and the United States have often attempted ex post facto to attribute this sympathy for the PLO to local anti-Semitism, these allegations have not been borne out.

As the Israeli daily Davar pointed out on the eve of Somoza's overthrow: [1980s]
The people of Nicaragua did not become anti-Semitic by the influence of a new kind of bananas they have begun to grow. The Sandinista movement does not need such questionable 4 justifications in order to achieve popularity-the fact that Somoza's regime is so corrupt and dirty is sufficient grounds for any reasonable man to support, either openly or covertly, those fighting Somoza. If more and more Nicaraguans are hating Israel more and more, it is not because they have become anti-Semitic suddenly. The reason is different: Because more and more of their children are being killed or wounded by weapons "made in Israel."

... Israel's political well-being in the region hinges on the survival of rightwing military dictatorships. By associating so closely with hated regimes, Israel alienates local populations and effectively rules out the possibility of continued relations in the event of a change in regime. Indeed, most liberation movements in Central America have explicitly expressed the intention of severing ties with Israel immediately upon coming to power.

... For a variety oil reasons ... including limited access to information and a sense that whatever Israel does will earn it criticism-the Israeli public by and large continues to support the arms exports policy. As Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi of the University of Haifa wrote in a New York Times editorial:

There is virtually no Israeli opposition to this global adventurism. There is no "human rights lobby" to oppose military involvement in Guatemala, Haiti or South Africa. There are no angry editorials or demonstrations when officials from repressive third world countries visit Jerusalem .... When Israeli military advisers train Angola Unita forces in Namibia, there are no angry congressional reactions and no oversight committees. The Knesset has nothing to say about such matters, which are defined as classified military business. The Peace Now movement would not dream of protesting Israeli involvement in Guatemala, Haiti or the Philippines. As far as the Israeli public is concerned, this is a non-issue.

Israel's arms clients are increasingly apt to be international pariah states or right-wing dictatorships waging war against their own people and in need of Israel's particular military expertise. And this will ultimately be to Israel's detriment politically, and certainly to the detriment of the populations of the countries it supplies.

Israel and Latin America: The Military Connection

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