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The history of Israel's illicit covert global arms trade

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Aug 6, 2019 - 1:43:08 PM

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A 2018 press release issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury cited retired Israeli Defense Forces Major General Israel Ziv as using an agricultural company as a “cover” for the sale of $150 million worth of weapons to the government of South Sudan. “Through bribery and promises of security support,” he reportedly, to increase his profits, organized attacks by opposition mercenaries on the country’s oil fields and infrastructure, “in an effort to create a problem that only his company and affiliates could solve.”

An investigative piece, penned by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a media organization funded by private foundations, Google and the governments of the U.S. Britain and Sweden, revealed that Ziv used international oil trader, Trafigura, to cover his tracks.

In this file photo taken April 14, 2016, government soldiers follow orders to raise their guns during a military parade in Juba, South Sudan. Escalating violence in South Sudan is casting a light on Israel’s murky involvement in that raging conflict, with the government’s use of Israeli arms and surveillance equipment drawing criticism from human rights activists and a lawmaker who are demanding that Israel halt such transfers to the embattled African country. The scrutiny comes as Israel has been forging new ties with countries across Africa, hoping their support will counter Palestinian diplomatic offensives at the United Nations.

The U.S. alleged “Ziv has been paid through the oil industry (Trafigura) and has had close collaboration with a major multinational oil firm.”

OCCRP’s investigation discovered leaked internal documents, emails and other records showing that Trafigura transferred at least $140 million to South Sudan’s central bank.

The records “also show that the government then transferred nearly the same amount to Global CST,” one of Ziv’s three companies that are also subject to U.S. government sanctions.

Ziv, according to Electric Intifada, has been pressing the Israeli defense ministry to lobby the U.S. government to lift the sanctions against him and his three companies.

In March of this year, the Israeli arms export agency supplied an “undoubtedly helpful letter” to the arms dealer, stating that “as of this day, the Ministry of Defense has not found evidence of unlawful activity in regards to defense exports by Israel Ziv or his companies.”

To add to Ziv’s support, and which proves that he was a part of this scheme, reported the Israeli business publication Calcalist, no less a figure than South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just days after U.S. sanctions had been imposed. Kiir urged the Israeli PM to intercede in Ziv’s behalf.

According to Mondoweiss, the news and opinion publication that focuses on Israel and Palestine, “Ex-general Ziv is hardly the first Israeli to commit crimes in Africa with no punishment in Israel. Dan Gertler, an Israeli billionaire, has teamed up with Joseph Kabila, the former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to loot that desperately poor country of billions. Another Israeli super-wealthy businessman, Beny Steinmetz, was mixed up in corruption over mining deals in the West African nation of Guinea.” 

To get more of an appreciation of the apparent importance of Israel’s illicit arms trade to the Jewish state’s economy, which includes Israeli privately-owned companies, all you need is a Google search.

In a 1995 Foreign Policy piece, by Duncan Clarke, a professor of international relations and coordinator of the U.S. Foreign Policy field, School of International Service at American University, wrote in a comprehensive report titled, “Israel’s Unauthorized Arms Transfers:” “Evidence shows that Israel has systematically circumvented U.S. restrictions on the re-export of U.S. defense products, components, and technical data.”   

Other countries have been apprehended “evading U.S. re-export controls, but Israel’s case appears unique. Not only is it the beneficiary of massive U.S. support, but it is also by far the principal offender and foremost concern of U.S. officials responsible for implementing the laws on re-export of U.S. defense products,” he said. “Unauthorized Israeli re-transfers of U.S. defense items and technology are of particular concern for several reasons, say U.S. officials: Israel re-exports much more often than do other allies and with more sensitive technology; it sells to ‘pariah’ states with which the United States refuses to deal; its sophisticated defense industry makes retransfers harder to track.”

A recent report by Amnesty International indicts Israel for its “absence of monitoring and transparency (that) have for decades let Israel supply equipment and defense-related knowledge to questionable states (like South Sudan) and dictatorial or unstable regimes that have been shunned by the international community.”

According to Amnesty, often the exported weapons “reach their destination after a series of transactions, thereby skirting international monitoring and the rules of Israel itself.”

It cites the presence of Israeli-made Galil Ace rifles in the South Sudanese army as an example. “With no documentation of sales, one cannot know when they were sold, by which company, how many, and so on,” the report says.

Another recent report, published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), says Israel, which is the world’s 8th largest arms exporter, exports arms to all regions of the world, with the exception of the Middle East.

Israel, says the report, “has been accused of selling weapons and military services to human rights violators around the world for decades, including to apartheid South Africa, Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and in recent years to South Sudan, despite a near-universal arms embargo over the bloody civil war there.”

In addition, SIPRI says, “Israel is one of a range of smaller suppliers of major weapons and other military equipment to sub-Saharan Africa. It has long sold or given weapons to a host of developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and the deals are often accompanied by serving or retired Israeli military personnel (like retired Major General Israel Zev) and Israeli civilian contractors as instructors. Although Israeli arms exports, especially of major weapons, to sub-Saharan Africa are limited, Israeli weapons, brokers and instructors are likely to sometimes have a more significant impact than mere numbers of supplied weapons imply.”

In recent history Israel has been accused of supplying Myanmar with “advanced weapons” during the country’s ethnic cleansing campaign against its Rohingya Muslims. The Foreign Ministry admitted last year to selling Myanmar weapons in the past, but said, if it is to be believed, that it had frozen all contracts in 2017.

In a 2016 speech, War Resisters’ International intern Taya Govreen-Segal delivered an inspiring and informational speech to the “Britain and Palestine: Past History and Future Role” conference held at Sarum College, Salisbury, UK.

“Israel has the largest security industry in relation to the economy of any country in the world, exporting weapons to 130 different countries. Israel refuses to join the 82 states that have ratified the Arms Trade Treaty and commit to not selling weapons that will be used for genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of human rights, since it fears signing it will lead states to stop trading with Israel,” she said.

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