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Exploiting the Myanmar Tragedy to Vilify Israel

October 2, 2007 - The following report was published by the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco. I am indebted to Ami Isseroff for providing information that aided me in preparing my part of it. (Carlos)

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Opinions expressed in the Middle East Briefing do not necessarily convey those of JCRC

Volume 1, Number 7                                                            October 2, 2007

Exploiting the Myanmar Tragedy to Vilify Israel

MapMany of Israel's harshest critics are always seeking new angles to malign Israel. The recent events in Myanmar (Burma) is no exception.

A number of blogs are running a story with such headlines as "Israel sold weapons to Myanmar Junta, then lies about the sales," or "Israeli arming of Burma-Myanmar junta," or "Israeli military aid to Burmese regime," among others.  The odd thing is that all these blogs are cutting and pasting from a single source, a blog called "World War 4 Report," found here
The main focus of this spin is on alleged Israeli ties to the military junta in Myanmar, based solely on a seven year-old story in Jane's Intelligence Review from March 1, 2000, found hereWW4R's spin on this story leaves the reader with the impression that, if not for Israel, the Myanmar military would not be able to function.
This issue of Middle East Briefing will deconstruct this line of argumentation.  Many thanks to Carlos at for providing much of the information in this Briefing.  
For information on Burma by those seeking to help the Burmese people, and not exploit their misery as a means of attacking Israel, here are a few suggested sites (listing does not constitute an endorsement of these sites by JCRC):
Yitzhak Santis, Director
JCRC Middle East Project
Main points
  • The Jane's report, which is seven years old, is shot through and through with passive voice phrases like "reports continue to surface,"  "reportedly,"  "there have been several other reports." "appears to include," "additional rumours," "apparently," "difficult to prove," "it has been suggested," "many observers believe," "stories surfaced about possible Israeli involvement."   There are no verifiable citations.
  • Israel and Myanmar (Burma) did have a relationship dating from 1948 when both became independent states.  Jane's mentions several reasons for this, like the following, which is omitted in the posted article:

"Israel, threatened on all sides by Arab countries, was anxious to find allies who could provide diplomatic support in international forums like the UN."

  • The heaviest Israeli support took place during the earlier years of this relationship, in the 1950's.  As for more recent activity, the Jane's report contains the following statement, which the WW4R article very conveniently omits:

"These reports of arms sales, technology transfers and other ties to the military regime in Yangon have been repeatedly and strenuously denied by official Israeli representatives in the region. They have pointed out that most of the accusations leveled at Israel since 1988 have been based on unsubstantiated rumours, speculation in the international news media, and purely circumstantial evidence."

  • Jane's mentions a 1997 contract with the Elbit company for some electronics to upgrade defective Chinese planes.  Elbit is a private company and can sell to whom it wants.  But while Elbit sells electronics, let's look at who is providing the big guns to Myanmar's naval ship building efforts.  Myanmar:

"has now purchased three Chinese hulls, and is currently fitting them out as corvettes in Yangon's Sinmalaik shipyard.

"Despite a European Community embargo against arms sales to Myanmar, the ships' main guns are being imported (apparently through a third party) from Italy."
  • Here the Jane's article makes, at best, an inference when it states that,

"Based on the information currently available, they [the corvettes' guns] 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."

Note the phrase "perhaps coincidentally" indicating this is not verified information.
Jane's describes Israel's main role in "fitting out the three corvettes is apparently to provide their electronics suites."  Once again, note the word "apparently," indicating no hard information backs up the report.
  • The Jane's article also states:

"In order to replenish Myanmar's dwindling military supplies, the [military] turned first to Singapore and Pakistan. It later developed very close ties with China."

  • This raises the question of why Israel is being singled out, while Italy, Singapore, Pakistan, and especially China are essentially let off the hook. See also this December 7, 2006 Human Rights Watch press release ("India: Military Aid to Burma Fuels Abuses") condemning India's military support of Burma.  The WW4R article clearly has an agenda against Israel.
  • The Jane's report is seven years old.  Even the United States did not impose trade sanctions until 2003.  This is another clue to the agenda of those who are trying to use this article to defame Israel.
  • Finally, the WW4R article and its echos in the blogosphere seems unphased about Iran's burgeoning relationship with the Myanmar junta.  For example, see this interview with Iran's ambassador to Myanmar at the web site of the Democratic Voice of Burma.  According to Iran's ambassador, "we have a very close position regarding . . . issues at the United Nations and so one of the issues [at the moment] is . . . about Iran and usually Myanmar supports Iran, our right to have this kind of [nuclear] energy."  (ellipses in the original)

In conclusion:

  1. The present role of Israel in the Myanmar situation is uncertain at best.
  2. Those who assert that the Jane's report is some kind of smoking gun have a clear political agenda and are promoting a double standard. 

Those who really care about the people of Burma, and wish to stop the violence there, have far more pressing matters to attend to than smearing Israel using a seven year old report based largely on "rumours" that are "difficult to prove."  Such unfounded attacks on Israel do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Burmese people, and it does nothing for peacemaking and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  Its only purpose is to demonize Israel, while contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance and hate.

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