Myanmar Army is not the first to receive weapons; Israel provided arms to regimes with controversial human rights records in the past

Middle East Eye (MEE), an online news portal on September 4 reported that Israel continues to supply arms to the Myanmar army, which human rights groups say, is involved in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.

Israeli arms companies like TAR Ideal Concepts have trained Myanmar’s Special Forces in Rakhine state and as per human rights groups and Burmese officials, the weapons include more than a 100 tanks, and weapons and boats used to police its border.

It is important to note that US and the European Union (EU) have imposed an arms embargo on Myanmar citing the International Religious Freedom Act. This act uses embargo on countries that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.

Well, this is not new to Israel. It has long controversial history of supplying weapons to warn torn areas and especially Israeli manufactured weapons have been allegedly sold to many regimes with controversial human rights records.

Israel military exports grew by $800 million in 2016, bringing in $6.5 billion, SIBAT, the military exports unit of the Defense Ministry, The Jerusalem Post reported on March 30, 2017.


As per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 2016 saw total $31 billion arms trade all over the world. Israel stands at 7th position among top 10 major arms exporter countries with $1.3bn arms export in 2016. Overall, arms sales have been steadily increasing since 2002, the year with the lowest figures in last four decades.

Israel being one of world’s largest arms exporter, supplies its weapons to more than fifty countries around the world. Nearly 50% of its contracts come from Asia Pacific although Israeli Defence Ministry does not reveal the complete list of its clients.

Let’s look at the historical data of Israel supplying weapons to regimes with controversial human rights records;

Guatemala Civil War (1960 – 1996)

Guatemalan Civil War, known for massacre of Maya civilians where an estimated 200,000 civilians were killed by US-backed Guatemalan army. the New York Times on July 21, 1983 reported that Israel was not only acting as a surrogate for the United States (in a similar fashion to its actions in Nicaragua), but also working to oppose the Soviet Union and grow the market for Israeli arms.

SIPRI calculates that 39 percent of Guatemala’s weapons imports between 1975 and 1979 were from Israel and numerous other sources said that up to 300 Israeli advisors were operating in Guatemala.

El Salvadoran Civil War (1979 – 1992)

El Salvadoran civil war between the right-wing landowning class supported by a particularly violent military pitted against left-wing popular organisations which left 75,000 killed – the Israelis were present from the beginning. Besides arms sales, they helped train ANSESAL, the secret police, who later formed the framework of the infamous death squads that would kill tens of thousands of mostly civilian activists.

According to SIPRI, from 1975 to 1979, 83% of El Salvador’s military imports came from Israel.

Nicaragua Revolution (1981 – 1990)

The Contra War of the 1980s took the lives of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans and was the subject of fierce international debate. In 1978, Nicaragua’s dictator Somoza was making his last stand against a general uprising of the Sandinista-led population who were sick of his family’s dynasty which had ruled and monopolised the county for half a century.  The Israelis and the US had been supplying Somoza with weapons for years. But when President Jimmy Carter came into office in 1976 he ordered a cessation of all US military assistance to Nicaragua.

In February 1957, a Nicaraguan delegation to Israel negotiated a $1.2 million arms deal with Shimon Peres, then the director-general of the Israeli Defense Ministry. Over a period spanning more than two decades Israel sold tanks, light aircraft, armored cars, automatic rifles and ammunition to the Nicaraguan military. By the 1970s, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Israel accounted for 98 percent of Nicaragua’s arms imports.

Iran during the reign of the Shah

According to The Iran Primer, despite its enmity toward the Jewish state, Iran secretly bought weapons from Israel after Iraq’s 1980 invasion. Arms transfers from Israel to Iran continued for a short time, but there have been no publicly acknowledged deals since 1982.

Ethiopian Civil War (1974 – 1991)

Ethopian civil war left at least 1.4 million dead. As per a report published in The New York Times in February 7, 1990, Israeli Ambassador Meir Joffe to Ethiopia said that the Government of Lieut. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam needs to be supported against secessionist rebels in coastal region of Eritrea who would turn the ”Red Sea into the Arab Sea”.

Israel is believed to have supplied President Mengistu with cluster bombs for use against the Tigre People’s Liberation Front, which is not a separatist movement but rather seeks the overthrow of the Addis Ababa Government.


Israeli officials have acknowledged supplying small arms to the Ethiopian Army. In one account, an Israeli official said that 150,000 bolt-action rifles had been given for militiamen fighting the Tigre insurgency.

South Sudanese Civil War (2013 – Continue)

Up to 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the civil war. Washington Post on March 31, 2017 reported that the government is accused by the US and aid groups among others of using starvation as a tactic of collection punishment for populations that support rebels by intentionally blocking aid. Times of Israel reported that a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by AFP on October 20, 2016 says, “well-established networks” of arms suppliers in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, including from Israel, that are fueling the war in South Sudan.

It is also interesting to know that Israel has objected Russian arms supply to Syria citing its own safety.

According to one report published by Reuters in May 19, 2013, Israel Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Army Radio: “(Weapons) could reach others in Syria or Lebanon and be used against Israel”. He further warning Russian arms supply to Syria said, “These are not just any weapons, they are tie-breakers, and that’s why there is a responsibility with all world powers, certainly Russia, not to supply such arms”.