Introductory comments from Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.
[Middle East News Service comments: News items should always be read with scepticism but some times more than others. This morning (Monday) Sydney Morning Herald’s report Singapore, a friend indeed to Burma contains the following segment: ‘Much of Singapore's activity in Burma has been documented by an analyst working in Australia's Office of National Assessments. Andrew Selth is recognised as a leading authority on Burma's military. Now a research fellow at Queensland's Griffith University, Selth has written extensively for years on how close Singapore Inc is to the junta.
‘Often writing as "William Ashton" in Jane's Intelligence Review, Selth has described how Singapore has sent guns, rockets, armoured personnel carriers and grenade launchers to the junta, some of it trans-shipped from stocks seized by Israel from Palestinians in southern Lebanon.’
Frankly I don’t believe that Israel, or Singapore for that matter, would have kept equipment dating back to 1982 – the last time Israel seized weapons from Palestinians in Lebanon Israel seized considerable amounts much more recently on the West Bank.
There has been some interest in the relationship between Israel and Burma. The English Haaretz pointed out in its 30 September issue that Israel took its time in condemning the Burmese regime. The Hebrew Haaretz had much more:
“The Foreign Ministry contends that relations over the past two decades have been kept ‘on the back burner’ and that ‘there has hardly been any political dialogue.’ True, some of the junta leaders visited Israel in 1995, including the chief of Intelligence. They were received by senior Foreign Ministry officials. Yitzhak Shelef, who then headed the Asia section of the ministry, pointed out that ‘we couldn’t have not received them, but the visit concentrated on economic issues. I don’t remember anything beyond that.’”
Haaretz did not comment on why the Chief of Intelligence would be involved in economic discussions. A major portion of the article concentrated on military relations including a one paragraph summary of the Jane’s article included below. This was followed by denials from the foreign ministry, Gad Ram-On (the Israeli ambassador in 1996-2000 and from sources close to Israeli Military Industries and Elbit.
Einyan Merkazi, news-israel.net - a source similar to Crikey.com.au in Australia in its earlier years (although somewhat more patriotic) - did not share Haaretz’s need to give twice as much space for the denials. While wrongly attributing the item to the most recent issue of Jane’s it added:
“The riots in Burma whose name was changed by the junta to Myanmar. are slowly but surely exposing Israel’s involvement and its close ties with the dictatorial regime. Once again it becomes evident that Israel is one of the world largest traders in death and weaponry. The Israeli government does not have any compunction as to identity of its customers. Since the monks uprising commenced several hundred people have been killed and thousands have been arrested. The ruling junta utilises sharpshooters in a similar manner that the IDF uses against armed Palestinian militants on the West Bank in Gaza.” Earlier the web site pointed out that Ambassador Ruth Schatz background is in military intelligence.
Included below is the only copy of the 2000 Jane’s report that I was able to obtain. While the details match the summary in both Haaretz and Einyan Merkazi I have no idea to the reliability of the source and would hope to have it confirmed elsewhere.
Considering Einyan Merkazi’s allusion to the similar tactics used by the Burmese junta and the IDF the last word should go to Haaretz cartoonist Daniella London-Dekel – Sol Salbe.]
TV screen is datelined Gaza
“Poor Burmese monks”
Israeli military aid to Burmese regime: Jane's
Submitted by David Bloom on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 20:14.
The Burmese junta currently shooting unarmed protestors received a cynical plea for restraint from the Israel government on Sept. 29. According to the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, the Israeli foreign ministry announced "Israel is concerned by the situation in Myanmar, and urges the government to demonstrate restraint and refrain from harming demonstrators." The article ended by pointing out that "Israel denies selling weapons to Burma or Myanmar." (Ha'aretz, Sept. 29)
Not true, according to a March 1, 2000 report in the authoritative British publication Jane's Intelligence Review by William Ashton. The article, titled "Myanmar and Israel develop military pact," details how Israeli companies and the Israeli government have been supplying and developing weapons for the Burmese regime, and sharing intelligence:
In August 1997 it was revealed that the Israeli defence manufacturing company Elbit had won a contract to upgrade Myanmar's (then) three squadrons of Chinese-built F-7 fighters and FT-7 trainers. The F-7 is a derivative of the Mikoyan MiG-21 'Fishbed' jet fighter. The FT-7 is the export version of the GAIC JJ-7, itself a copy of the MiG-21 'Mongol-B' trainer. Since they began to be delivered by China in 1991, the Myanmar Air Force has progressively acquired about 54 (or four squadrons) of these aircraft, the latest arriving at Hmawbi air base only last year. In related sales, the air force has also acquired about 350 PL-2A air-to-air missiles (AAM) from China and at least one shipment of the more sophisticated PL-5 AAMs.
Since their delivery to Myanmar, these new aircraft have caused the air force considerable problems. Several aircraft (and pilots) have already been lost through accidents, raising questions about the reliability of the Chinese technology. There have also been reliable reports that the F-7s were delivered without the computer software to permit the AAMs to be fired in flight. Also, the air force has complained that the F-7s are difficult to maintain, in part reflecting major differences between the structure and underlying philosophy of the Myanmar and Chinese logistics systems. Spare parts have been in very short supply. In addition, the air force seems to have experienced difficulties in using the F-7 (designed primarily for air defence) in a ground attack role. These, and other problems, seem to have prompted the air force to turn to Israel for assistance.
According to sources in the international arms market, 36 of Myanmar's F-7 fighters are to be retro-fitted with the Elta EL/M- 2032 air-to-air radar, Rafael Python 3 infrared, short range AAMs, and Litening laser designator pods. The same equipment will also be installed on the two-seater FT-7 fighter trainers. In a related deal, Israel will also sell Myanmar at least one consignment of laser-guided bombs. Since the Elbit contract was won in 1997, the air force has acquired at least one more squadron of F-7 and FT-7 aircraft from China, but it is not known whether the Israeli-backed upgrade programme will now be extended to include the additional aircraft. Myanmar's critical shortage of foreign exchange will be a major factor in the SPDC's decision.
The army has also benefited from Myanmar's new closeness to Israel.
As part of the regime's massive military modernisation and expansion programme, considerable effort has been put into upgrading the army's artillery capabilities. In keeping with its practice of never abandoning any equipment of value, the army clearly still aims, as far as possible, to keep older weapons operational. (Pakistan, for example, has recently provided Myanmar with ammunition for its vintage 25 pounder field guns). The older UK, US and Yugoslav guns in the Tatmadaw's [Myanmar Armed Forces] inventory have been supplemented over the past 10 years with a range of new towed and self-propelled artillery pieces. Purchased mainly from China, they include 122mm howitzers, anti-tank guns, 57mm Type 80 anti-aircraft guns, 37mm Type 74 anti-aircraft guns and 107mm Type 63 multiple rocket launchers. In a barter deal brokered by China last year, the SPDC has also managed to acquire about 16 130mm artillery pieces from North Korea. Despite all this new firepower, however, the army has still looked to Israel to help equip its new artillery battalions.
Around 1998 Myanmar negotiated the purchase of 16 155mm Soltam towed howitzers, possibly through a third party like Singapore. These guns are believed to be second-hand pieces no longer required by the Israel Defence Force. Last year, ammunition for these guns (including high explosive and white phosphorous rounds) was ordered from Pakistan's government ordnance factories. Before the purchase of these new Chinese and North Korean weapons, Myanmar's largest artillery pieces were 105mm medium guns, provided by the USA almost 40 years ago. Acquiring the Israeli weapons thus marks a major capability leap for Myanmar's army gunners. It is possible that either Israel or Pakistan has provided instructors to help the army learn to use and maintain these new weapons.
Nor has the Myanmar Navy missed out on Israeli assistance. There have been several reports that Israel is playing a crucial role in the construction and fitting out of three new warships, currently being built in Yangon.
Myanmar's military leaders have long wanted to acquire two or three frigates to replace the country's obsolete PCE-827 and Admirable- class corvettes, decommissioned in 1994, and its two 1960s-vintage Nawarat-class corvettes, which have been gradually phased out since 1989. As military ties with China rapidly grew during the 1990s, the SLORC hoped to buy two or three Jiangnan- or even Jianghu-class frigates, but it could not afford even the special 'friendship' prices being asked by Beijing. As a compromise, the SPDC has now purchased three Chinese hulls, and is currently fitting them out as corvettes in Yangon's Sinmalaik shipyard.
According to reliable reports, the three vessels will each be about 75m long and displace about 1,200 tons. Despite a European Community embargo against arms sales to Myanmar, the ships' main guns are being imported (apparently through a third party) from Italy. Based on the information currently available, they are likely to be 76mm OTO Melara Compact guns, weapons which (perhaps coincidentally) have been extensively combat-tested by the Israeli Navy on its Reshef- class fast attack missile patrol boats. The corvettes will probably also be fitted with anti-submarine weapons, but it is not known what, if any, surface-to-surface and SAMs the ships will carry.
Israel's main role in fitting out the three corvettes is apparently to provide their electronics suites. Details of the full contract are not known, but it is expected that each package will include at least a surface-search radar, a fire-control radar, a navigation radar and a hull-mounted sonar.
The first of these warships will probably be commissioned and commence sea trials later this year.
Only sales or a strategic imperative?
While Myanmar remains a pariah state, subject to comprehensive sanctions by the USA and European Community, it is unlikely that Israel will ever admit publicly to having military links with the Tatmadaw. Until it does, the reasons for Israel's secret partnership with the Yangon regime will remain unclear. A number of factors, however, have probably played a part in influencing policy decisions in Tel Aviv.
There is clearly a strong commercial imperative behind some of these ventures. From a regional base in Singapore, with which it shares a very close relationship, Israel has already managed to penetrate the lucrative Chinese arms market. It is now aggressively seeking new targets for sales of weapons and military equipment in the Asia- Pacific. These sales are sometimes supported by offers of technology transfers and specialised advice. This approach has led to fears among some countries that Israel will introduce new military capabilities into the region which could encourage a mini arms race, as others attempt to catch up. The weapon systems being provided to the Myanmar armed forces are not that new, and the Asian economic crisis has dramatically reduced the purchasing power of many regional countries, but Israel's current activities in Myanmar will add to those concerns.
Given the nature of some of these sales, and other probable forms of military assistance to Myanmar, these initiatives would appear to enjoy the strong support of the Israeli government. In addition to the ever-present trade imperative, one reason for this support could be a calculation by senior Israeli officials that closer ties to Myanmar could reap diplomatic and intelligence dividends. For example, Myanmar is now a full member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) which, despite the economic crisis, is still a major force in a part of the world which has received much closer attention from strategic analysts since the end of the Cold War. Israel's regional base will remain Singapore, but it is possible that Tel Aviv believes Myanmar can provide another avenue for influence in ASEAN, and a useful vantage point from which to monitor critical strategic developments in places like China and India.
In particular, Israel is interested in the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the transfer of technologies related to the development of ballistic and other missiles. Myanmar has close military relations with China and Pakistan, both of which have been accused of transferring sensitive weapons technologies to rogue Islamic states, such as Iran. Myanmar is also a neighbour of India, another nuclear power that has resisted international pressure to curb its proliferation activities. Yangon could thus be seen by Israel as a useful listening post from which to monitor and report on these countries.
Also, despite accusations over the years that Myanmar has developed chemical and biological weapons, and more convincing arguments that Israel has a sizeable nuclear arsenal of its own, both countries share an interest in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Myanmar's support for anti-proliferation initiatives, in multilateral forums like the UN General Assembly and the Committee on Disarmament, would seem to be worth a modest investment by the Israeli government in bilateral relations with the SPDC. In addition to training Myanmar agriculturalists in Israel, assisting the Tatmadaw to upgrade its military capabilities seems a sure way of getting close to the Yangon regime.
Israel's repeated denial of any military links with Myanmar are not unexpected. Israel has never liked advertising such ties, particularly with countries like Myanmar, South Africa and China, which have been condemned by the international community for gross abuses of human rights. Even Israel's very close military ties with Singapore are routinely denied by both sides. Yet there seems little room for doubt that, after the 1988 takeover, Israel did start to develop close links with the SLORC, which are continuing to grow under the SPDC. In these circumstances, it would be surprising if Israel was not still looking for opportunities to restore the kind of mutually beneficial bilateral relationship that was first established when both countries became independent modern states in 1948.