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Israel Sold Arms to Myanmar Even After the 2021 Military Coup

Shipping records show Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems arming Myanmar’s junta, which bombs civilian targets in the country

Myanmar's 78th Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw, March 27, 2023 [Aung Shine Oo | AP]

Israel continued to sell advanced weapons systems to Myanmar’s armed forces until at least early 2022, a year after the rise of its junta regime. According to documents and sources who spoke with Haaretz, the government-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and the Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems maintained their trade with Myanmar despite an international arms embargo on the country, and despite a 2017 ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice and the Israeli government’s own 2018 statement saying it stopped such sales.

The documents attest to at least four shipments from IAI since 2018, totaling around 250 metric tons, dispatched to Myanmar from Israel. The last shipment is dated March 2022. The head of the Myanmar Directorate of Defense Procurement was the named recipient, and the shipping records gives the cargo as “aircraft parts” and “metal plates.” However, the sources who spoke with Haaretz say these could also be used in ships: IAI has supplied six Dvora-class patrol boats to Myanmar’s navy. The last two were built in Myanmar and commissioned in a December 2022 formal event. IAI has also provided the junta-led state with advanced radar systems produced by its ELTA Systems subsidiary.

Shipping record showing "aircraft parts" sent from Israel Aerospace Industries to Myanmar's army, March 2022 [Haaretz]

The sources say that during these years Elbit Systems – a publicly traded company controlled by Federmann Enterprises – also sold military systems to the Myanmar Air Force. Among these were an ACMI (air combat maneuvering instrumentation) pod, parts for Skylark unmanned aerial vehicles and a remotely operated naval turret armed with a rapid-firing 25 mm gun. This gun turret does not match the caliber of the Dvora-class ships sold by Israel. The shipments arrived in the former capital Yangon, most likely by way of Singapore and Thailand.

Myanmar’s air force is taking an increasingly central role in the lethal oppression of its citizens. Over 140 people were killed in the first quarter of 2023 in air raids on villages that the junta claims are opposition bases. In the second quarter, the numbers rose to over 330 dead. In October, 80 people died when the MAF bombed a concert; five months ago, the air force targeted a celebration for the establishment of a local organization opposed to the junta, leaving 30 children and 70 adults dead. Among the MAF’s latest targets were a hospital, a church and a school. Myanmar’s navy is also involved in attacks on civilian villages and boats in the waterway-rich country.

Victims of an airstrike by Myanmar's air force being buried outside the town of Pasuang, June 25, 2023 [AP]

Israel’s long-standing relations with the different regimes controlling Myanmar have involved arms trade since the mid-20th century. Even in the years in which the country was openly ruled by its military junta, Israel refused to stop the trade. The trade was maintained through the Rohingya genocide of 2016-17.

In response to a petition by human rights activists headed by Israel lawyer Eitay Mack, the High Court issued a ruling in 2017 meant to put a stop to the military exports, but kept it a secret. Only in early 2018, following media coverage and public pressure, did Israel officially announce it was stopping arms sales to the country.

The party of Aung San Suu Kyi, political leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, won Myanmar’s November 2020 general election by a landslide. Two months later, the military junta took over once more, detaining Suu Kyi and the president along with cabinet ministers and members of parliament. Suu Kyi was sentenced to 26 years in prison. The junta has continued its persecution of the 2021-founded National Unity Government of Myanmar, which is fighting the military rule along with tribal rebel organizations. The New York Times reported that the military has been habitually bombing civilians and setting fire to homes, with over 40 bombings recorded in June 2023.

As Haaretz reported in June, Israel’s CAA Industries sold millions of dollars’ worth of arms-manufacturing equipment to Myanmar. In January, it was revealed that the Israel-based cyber firm Cognyte won a tender to supply the country with intercept spyware designed to allow monitoring of all citizens across its telephone, internet and cellular networks. Last year, Haaretz found that a Burmese corporation embroiled in serious crime and corruption brokered arms deals between the military junta and IAI and Elbit Systems. And in 2019, a year after Israel claimed it had stopped selling arms to Myanmar, Haaretz spotted Myanmar Army officials visiting a Tel Aviv arms exhibition.

The records made public today reveal not only that Israel maintained arms trade with Myanmar after the 2017 High Court ruling, but that it continued to sell the country weapons even after the 2021 military coup.

Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung called for an investigation of the companies’ ties to Myanmar. “The Myanmar military is waging a campaign of terror against the people with indiscriminate air strikes, murder, rape and torture,” she said. “This is the context in which IAI and Elbit have been equipping the military, knowing full well it is responsible for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity. Israeli authorities should urgently investigate IAI and Elbit’s business with the Myanmar military and ensure accountability for any breaches of Israeli and international law. It’s time Israel stands with the people of Myanmar and ends all support for the military.”

In response to these allegations, IAI said: “There has been no business activity with Myanmar in recent years. IAI acts in accordance with the policies of the Defense Ministry’s Defense Exports Control Agency.” Elbit responded: “We do not address specific deals with this or that customer.” The Defense Ministry refused to comment.


(c) 2023, Haaretz


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