What is Israel’s role in Central America, and why have the nations there sought arms and military advisers from Israel? There seem to be four reasons for this curious relationship. The foremost has to do with the reliability of the main military patron in the region, the United States. At one point or another, Washington has interrupted arms sales to Somoza’s Nicaragua and to the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala. Most recently, Congressional opposition has blocked any acknowledged US military support for the counterrevolutionaries (the contras) fighting the Sandinista government in Managua. Furthermore, Israel provides aid to the police forces of Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador, something Congress has prohibited the US from doing since 1974.

A second reason is that Israeli weapons come combat-tested, and they are priced competitively with those of other arms suppliers. Until recently, with Israel's forced withdrawal from Lebanon, its weapons sales have no doubt been aided by the aura of invincibility attached to previous Israeli military campaigns.

Thirdly, the Central American governments see a close military relationship with Israel as a political asset in restoring or maintaining military and political ties with Washington. As one Israeli study of that country’s arms exports noted, the “purchaser country perceives its ties with Israel as the key to the influential American Jewish community and thus a way to create a favorable climate and image for its standing with the United States.” [1]

A fourth factor is the self-perception of some Central American regimes as internationally isolated and politically undervalued, trapped in a political state of siege, usually on the basis of their atrocious records of human rights abuses. They presume, in other words, a political affinity with Israel as a fellow “pariah state.”

This element has been most pronounced with the succession of military regimes in Guatemala over the last decade, which Cheryl Rubenberg discusses elsewhere in this issue. This article will consider the scope of Israeli military relations with those other countries of the region — Nicaragua under Somoza and his contra successors today, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

Somoza’s Nicaragua

The Somoza family dominated Nicaragua from the early 1930s until 1979. The Somozas controlled the country’s economy and effectively blocked all peaceful attempts at political and social change. In this they were fully supported by the United States. In 1961, opponents of the regime founded the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN).

Nicaragua’s relationship with Israel predates the founding of the Zionist state. Anastasio Somoza Garcia had provided agents of the forerunner of the Israeli army, the Haganah, with diplomatic covers necessary for purchasing arms in Europe. [2] This favor doubtless played some role in Israel’s provision of military equipment to the Somoza regime beginning in the mid-1950s. 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. [3] 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. [4]

Israeli arms sales to Nicaragua and to other Central American nations remained fairly uncontroversial until the intensification of the Sandinista opposition in 1978. [5] The savagery of Somoza’s troops toward civilians in the period after the September 1978 uprising, along with continued gross abuses of human rights, forced the United States to cut off arms shipments to the National Guard. [6] Reporting on a secret Israeli arms delivery to Managua in November 1978, Newsweek cited US officials as confirming that “in the past year Israel has become Nicaragua’s main supplier of weapons and ammunition.” [7] One Carter administration official said elsewhere that the administration “had decided against trying to prevent Israel from supplying light arms” to the Somoza regime. [8] Israel justified its military supply relationship with Somoza by pointing to the “special relationship” dating back to 1948. Somoza also provided more current favors for Israel; as columnist Smith Hempstone noted at the time, in the United Nations “you will find Nicaragua casting its ballot in support of Israel.”

Israel and the Sandinistas

The close relationship between the Somozas and Israel and the fact that Israel provided arms to fight the Sandinistas helps to explain the relations between the Sandinistas and the Palestine Liberation Organization that date back to the late 1960s. The Sandinistas saw their participation in battles against Somoza’s allies as a matter of self-defense. Several early FSLN members trained with the PLO in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One Nicaraguan, Patrick Arguello, was killed while participating in a PLO-directed hijacking in Europe in 1970. [9]

A Sandinista-PLO relationship, however, has not led Nicaragua to express a strong interest in the Middle East, nor has it precluded reestablishment of the diplomatic relations with Israel that were suspended in 1982. A New Jewish Agenda report sums up the situation concisely: “While they certainly have a history of support for and cooperation with the PLO, which maintains an office in Managua, the Sandinistas appear far less concerned with the Middle East than they do with Israeli policies as they affect Central America.” [10]

Not surprisingly, Israel’s relations with the victorious FSLN have been contentious from the start, and Israel has fully supported US efforts to undermine the revolutionary government in Nicaragua. Israel’s hostility toward the Sandinistas has taken two main forms, both of them useful to the Reagan administration’s counterrevolutionary campaign. The first is the charge that the Sandinista government has engaged in anti-Semitic persecution of Nicaragua’s small Jewish community. The second is Israel’s direct support of the CIA-created contra force.

In May 1983 the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith issued a report claiming that “the Sandinista government has forced the country’s entire Jewish community into exile, confiscating Jewish-owned property and taking over the synagogue in Managua.” [11] At the time the Sandinista revolution triumphed in 1979, there were approximately 200 Jews residing in the country. The Anti-Defamation League report was based almost entirely upon the testimony of two Nicaraguan exiles, Isaac Stavisky and his father, Abraham Gorn, both of whom had worked with the Somoza regime.

In July 1983, President Reagan affirmed the Anti-Defamation League claims that “virtually the entire Jewish community of Nicaragua has been frightened into exile,” [12] and Rep. Michael Barnes, a leading Democratic spokesman on Central America policy accused the Sandinistas of “government sponsored anti-Semitism.” [13]

The US Embassy in Managua, when it looked into the anti-Semitism charges, found little to back them up. Anthony Quainton, then the US ambassador, reported to Washington in late 1983 that “no verifiable evidence” had been found to support claims of anti-Semitic policies by the Nicaraguan government. [14] The Council on Hemispheric Affairs found that while there was an anti-Israel “mood” in Nicaragua, it detected “no evidence of systematic repression of the Jewish community or officially sponsored anti-Jewish campaigns.” [15]

After a fact-finding trip to Nicaragua in July 1984, the New Jewish Agenda issued a report which concluded that “charges of Nicaraguan government anti-Semitism cannot be supported; there simply is no body of credible evidence to suggest that the Sandinista government has pursued or is currently pursuing a policy of discrimination or coercion against Jews, or that Jewish people are not welcome to live and work in Nicaragua.” [16] The report added: “Charges of anti-Semitism are far too serious an issue to be publicly raised without clear substantiation and should not become used as a partisan political gambit in the United States.” [17]

Israel and the Contras

In March 1985, a small group of conservative Nicaraguan Jews resurrected this campaign, aiming it at Jewish Congresspersons and those with Jewish constituents who had opposed funding the contras. [18] In March 1986, President Reagan appealed to American Jews to support the $100 million contra aid package by claiming that “our supply lines to Israel and NATO run through the Caribbean.” A few days later, Vice President Bush denounced the Sandinista government for its “Nazi-like tactics.” The fate of Nicaragua’s Jewish community, he went on, “gives a picture of what is at stake” in the war against Nicaragua. [19] Israel has provided weapons for the contras, and there are indications that the Reagan Administration would like it to give even more aid and to take a much higher profile.

In late 1982, Israel sent the contras several thousand AK-47 assault rifles that it had captured from the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon. These rifles were paid for with CIA funds on cash-and-carry terms. [20] About 500 of the weapons were channeled to Eden Pastora from Israel via Venezuela; the remainder were destined for the Nicaraguan Democratic Force’s (FDN) Edgar Chamorro. [21] In July 1983, according to “senior Reagan administration officials,” Israel, “at the request of the United States,” agreed “to send weapons captured from the Palestine Liberation Organization to Honduras for eventual use by Nicaraguan rebels.” [22]

Although this is denied by both the United States and Israel, it is very likely that the US has intended that part of its military and economic aid package to Israel be used to fund the contras. [23] Concerned about such third-party sales to the contras, Sen. Claiborne Pell introduced an amendment to the 1986 foreign aid bill that would curtail aid to the contras via third countries. Under the threat of President Reagan’s veto, the Pell amendment was rewritten in a way that does not prohibit third party sales. [24]

Several contra leaders have openly discussed Israeli aid to their movement. In April 1984, a contra leader and former officer in Somoza’s National Guard claimed in an NBC interview that: “We received some weapons…that [the] Israeli government took from [the] PLO in Lebanon.” [25] The broadcast added that the rebels were known to use Soviet-made machine guns, and that Israel “at Washington’s urging, has armed a quarter of the rebel army.” [26] In May 1984, Time reported that “Israel funnels arms to the contras through the Honduran army. Israeli intelligence experts have helped the CIA train the contras, and retired or reserve Israeli army commandos have been hired by shadowy private firms to assist the rebels.” [27]

It is clear that contra leaders look to Israel for assistance and support. Marco Zeledon of the FDN commented in 1983, that “Israel would be a good candidate if the North Americans reduce our aid.” [28] Another prominent FDN figure, Adolfo Calero, confirmed in April 1984 that his forces were looking for alternative sources of support and added that “the Israelis would be the best because they have the technical experience.” [29]

By some accounts, the US pressured Israel to assume a more overt role in Central America in the summer and fall of 1983 and in the spring of 1984. [30] The Jerusalem Post reported that “the administration would like to see Israel encourage its own supporters in the Congress, the Jewish community and elsewhere to become more assertive in backing the contras…. The administration is prepared to cooperate with Israeli assistance schemes, but is more anxious to see a higher Israeli political profile in support of US policy in Central America.” [31]

Israel has accused the Reagan administration of encouraging the contras to publicize Israeli military assistance in order to improve their image with pro-Israel members of Congress. [32] The Israelis are reluctant to take a high profile in the contra controversy precisely because this will antagonize liberals opposed to aid for the contras; at the same time, Israel must also placate its right-wing congressional supporters who would like to see a greater Israeli role in Central America. [33]

Israel has denied that it has supplied military equipment to the contras. [34] In April 1984, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declared that “normally we do not discuss arms sales at all, but this allegation is so baseless and casts such a slur upon Israel’s image that we decided to make a public denial.” [35] Concerning sales to the contras, an official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry told writer Victor Perera: “Officially, I don’t tell you yes and I don’t tell you no; but I personally can assure that it is not true. Of course we have no control over what a third country might do.” [36] As Aaron Klieman points out in his study of Israeli arms exports: “Diplomatic sensitivities may sometimes call for transferring weapons through a third party — country or private agent — so as to avoid complications and to enable spokesmen to insist that arms are not being supplied to a belligerent directly.” [37]

Ignacio Klich, an Argentine Jewish journalist who has closely followed Israel’s Third World involvements, reported in the Guardian in October 1985 that the Israelis advising the contras have been officially assigned to their duties by the Israeli Defense Forces. Klich also cites contra leaders’ claims that Israel was the source of the SAM-7 antiaircraft missiles the contras obtained earlier this year. [38]

In early 1985, citing Reagan administration officials and members of Congress, the New York Times reported that Israel had “increased its aid to the rebels providing more weapons and advice.” [39] President Reagan had reportedly approved a plan early in 1985 for secret funding if Congress cut off military aid to the contras. In addition to assistance from private American citizens, three US allies — Israel, South Korea and Taiwan — were expected to help the rebels. [40] The present campaign of the administration to link Nicaragua to the PLO and to Libya seems geared to encourage and facilitate a greater Israeli role. As Jane Hunter points out: “Even if linking Nicaragua to the PLO doesn’t stampede liberal members of Congress behind the contra program, it will certainly establish a dandy pretext for Israel to publicly take over the contras.” [41]


In late 1984, there had been signs that Israel and Nicaragua might be interested in reaching some kind of accommodation. Sergio Ramirez, Nicaragua’s newly elected vice president, explained that Nicaragua recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state while at the same time recognizing “the right of the Palestinian people to a territory.” [42] Although it is not clear what camp the initiative for improved relations came from, Ramirez stated that he would welcome mutual initiatives which could lead to the improvement of relations. [43] In the fall of 1984, a delegation of the Israeli Mapam party visited Nicaragua. Its members reported that they did not perceive a Sandinista anti-Jewish policy, and issued a statement condemning US aid to the contras. “The Sandinistas impressed upon their guests the importance they attached to Israel’s arms supplies to the contras, and they said this was one reason for Nicaragua’s anti-Israel stance at international forums.” [44] Ramirez had pointed out to the New Jewish Agenda delegation that current Israeli arms sales and training activities in Central America posed a substantial obstacle to normalization. [45]


Honduras is the poorest and most strategically located of the Central American nations, sharing borders with Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. While the levels of repression and violations of human rights are unacceptable by any standards, they have not reached the brutality of, for example, Somoza’s dictatorship during the late 1970s, or of the current regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala. [46] Honduras was the base in 1954 for the US coup which overthrew the progressive and democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala; more recently, the Honduran military has cooperated with their Salvadoran counterparts in counterinsurgency efforts. Honduras is also the base for the largest group of contras fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government.

Israel’s sale of 12 refurbished Dassault Super-Mystere fighter-interceptors to Honduras in early January 1977 gave that country “the first supersonic bombers in Central America.” [47] By failing to inform the State Department that the Dassaults had been outfitted with US-made Pratt and Whitney engines, Israel “violated US laws banning ‘third-country transfers’ of US military equipment.” [48] The matter was settled with little fanfare; then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger accepted the Israeli explanation that it had all been “an honest misunderstanding.” [49] In addition to the fighter jets, Honduras purchased from Israel three Arava transport planes, a Westwind jet, Galil automatic rifles, Uzi submachine guns, 14 RBY Mk armored cars, 106 mm mortars and five rapid patrol boats over the course of the 1970s. [50]

Seeking even more modern aircraft for an air force that defense analysts describe as having a “marked ascendancy in air power over neighboring countries,” [51] the head of the Honduran armed forces, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, in late 1982 made a “quasi-secret” visit to Israel in search of alternatives to US warplanes in case Congress refused to sell them. [52] Shortly thereafter, in December 1982, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon visited Tegucigalpa, raising speculation that another arms sale to Honduras was imminent. Sharon, accompanied by the head of Israel’s air force and the director of the Defense Ministry, [53] stressed that in addition to discussing possible weapons sales and assistance to Honduras, he planned to sign agreements in the fields of health, agriculture and culture. [54] The Christian Science Monitor, citing Honduran military sources, reported that Sharon did, in fact, sign an agreement in which Israel agreed to provide Honduras with Kfir fighter jets, tanks, training for Honduran officers, troops and pilots, and Galil assault rifles. The Honduran officer added that “a second phase of arms sales may involve more sophisticated weapons, such as missiles.” [55]

Israeli social scientist Edy Kaufman plays down the importance of Sharon’s visit to Honduras. Sharon’s trip took place, Kaufman claims, “without prior consultation with his colleagues and with a last minute announcement to the Foreign Minister Shamir. His visit was resented by Israeli officials, may have spoiled some incipient agreements and was, by and large, of no consequence.” [56] Sharon, upon his return to Israel, asserted his “visit to Honduras was the result of a decision made by the prime minister and foreign minister, and, of course, I assumed the mission.” [57]

In any event, Honduran officials were apparently pleased with the Sharon visit, which immediately followed a visit by Ronald Reagan. One official commented: “Sharon’s trip was more positive. He sold us arms. Reagan only uttered platitudes, explaining that Congress was preventing him from doing more.” [58] The State Department claimed it was unaware of Sharon’s trip, but when pressed to comment on Israel’s role in Central America, one official said, “We’ve indicated we’re not unhappy they are helping out. But I wouldn’t say we and the Israelis have figured out together what to do.” [59]

El Salvador

Like their counterparts in Guatemala and Nicaragua, El Salvador’s ruling class had effectively blocked all peaceful options for political and social change as of the early 1970s. By then, both the popular opposition movement and the armed guerrilla organizations gained momentum. As in the case of the other Central American countries, most of the Salvadoran military’s operations were against their own people. The exception was a brief conflict with neighboring Honduras in 1969. [60]

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 1975 and 1979, 83 percent of El Salvador’s defense imports were from Israel. [61] This included 25 Arava aircraft; six Fouga Magister trainer planes; 18 Dassault Ouragan jet fighters; 200 80 mm rocket launchers; 200 9 mm Uzi submachine guns; ammunition and spare parts. [62] With the first arms agreement in 1973, El Salvador got military equipment and the Israelis gained a Salvadoran embassy. [63] A 1983 agreement between El Salvador and Israel provided for the relocation of the Salvadoran embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and discussed further Israeli military aid to El Salvador. [64] In April 1984, Yossi Amihud, spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, denied that “Israel had any military relationship with El Salvador.” [65]

Israel has also assisted the government of El Salvador in a number of other military and security-related capacities. In 1981, Israel transferred $21 million in arms credits to El Salvador, following a request from Washington, thus enabling the Reagan administration to bypass Congress. [66] This maneuver appears to have been utilized only once. The Israeli daily Davar reported in 1984 that “the Pentagon wants Israel to send military advisers to El Salvador openly, as a demonstration of Israeli participation in the load the United States bears in Central America.” [67] According to the former Salvadoran undersecretary of the interior, Francisco Guerra y Guerra, Israeli technicians have installed a computer system with capabilities similar to those used by the Guatemalan security forces. [68] These computers would enable the military and police to seek out government opponents more systematically. Guerra y Guerra also confirmed that there had been Israeli advisers working with the Salvadoran secret police in the late 1970s. [69] In early 1985, the deputy minister of defense for public security, Col. Carlos Reynaldo Lopez Nulia, “traveled to Israel where he reportedly explored the possibility of Israeli training for internal security forces.” [70]

In 1984 Salvadoran air force commander Rafael Bustillo admitted that his military had purchased napalm from Israel which was used in El Salvador until 1981. [71] US Ambassador Thomas Pickering confirmed that the napalm was “probably of Israeli origin.” [72]

Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, a key actor in El Salvador’s stepped-up war against the guerrillas, credits his training by Israelis in both Israel and El Salvador in the mid-1970s for his military development. [73] Ochoa believes that the civilian population cannot remain neutral in a conflict such as El Salvador’s. When asked, in 1983, if his civic-military action concept was based on the US experience in Vietnam, Ochoa replied, “They lost. The Americans know nothing…. The Taiwanese and the Israelis do know.” [74] In 1985, Ochoa told the Dallas Morning News that El Salvador’s new civil defense units “will be like the armed patrols on the Israel kibbutzim.” [75] Ochoa has commented that he would like to see the Salvadoran army pursue the “Israeli solution” to what he sees as Nicaraguan support for Salvadoran guerrillas. For Ochoa, Nicaragua would become Central America’s Lebanon. [76]

Costa Rica

Since its revolution in the 1940s, Costa Rica has not experienced the political upheavals of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. However, as the US-sponsored effort to overthrow the government of Nicaragua unfolds, Costa Rica has assumed a prominent position. Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948, retaining a national police and security forces. In the area along the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border, the civil guard “has adopted Galil rifles and Uzi sub-machine guns as its official arms.” [77] The Israelis have also provided advice, particularly in the field of intelligence and communication. In 1985 the Costa Rican government announced that it would seek anti-aircraft weapons and high-caliber machine guns from Israel and other countries. [78]

Costa Rica has long maintained good relations with Israel. Luis Alberto Monge, president from 1982 to 1986, was formerly his country’s ambassador to Israel. [79] Over the past 20-odd years, the greater share of Israeli-Costa Rican relations have not been concerned with security matters. Yet as early as 1964, when Costa Rica was creating its Movimiento Nacional de Juventud (National Youth Movement) under Israeli direction, a representative of Israel’s Ministry of Defense went to Costa Rica to convince officials that the Gadna (an Israeli paramilitary youth organization) prototype was feasible. [80]

As with Honduras, Israel in late 1982 offered “a substantial amount of military equipment captured from Palestinian forces in Lebanon if Costa Rica would pay for the transportation costs.” [81] Israel has provided, and apparently still provides, intelligence and anti-terrorist training to the Costa Rican security forces. Deputy Security Minister of Costa Rica Johny Campos admitted that Israel was helping train Costa Ricans in intelligence matters, although he denied any other kind of assistance in the military field. [82] In 1984, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel will sell arms and provide counterinsurgency training to the Costa Rican police. [83]

There were reports in 1983 that the United States and Israel were involved in a land development scheme which included buying up land along the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border, clearing roads through the wilderness, and moving in thousands of settlers. “Israel will provide the technical expertise, presumably based on its experiences with settlements in the West Bank area,” wrote columnist Jack Anderson. [84] The plan is called the Northern Zone Infrastructure Development Project, and reflects the US preoccupation with isolating Nicaragua. The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot had reported earlier that “the government of Costa Rica has decided to try and create a ‘security belt’ along the border with Nicaragua, and Israel will aid the settlement plan.” [85] This is a region of considerable contra activity. The Israeli-US-Costa Rica settlement program fits nicely into the attempt to box in and surround Nicaragua. [86] A Reagan administration official conceded that an additional purpose of the project is to provide an infrastructure for use by military units in case of an eventual conflict with Nicaragua. [87] “Financing apparently comes from US AID [Agency for International Development], and Israel provides the advisers. The idea is to move anti-communist Costa Rican farmers up to the border, and supply them with infrastructure, credit and technical services. They would be providing cover for the contra base camps scattered throughout the area.” [88]

Hector Frances, who until 1981 acted as an Argentine adviser to the contras, interpreted the importance of having troops in Costa Rica along the Nicaraguan border. “The point of concentrating troops would be to prevent the Sandinista Popular Army — once having forced it into armed confrontations?from being able to carry out strategically critical maneuvers within Costa Rican territory in its own legitimate self-defense.” [89] Frances also claimed that the ambassador offered Israeli passports for use by the contras to move freely from Costa Rica to Honduras. [90]

Israel’s involvement with the contra forces in both Honduras and Costa Rica in their effort to encircle the Sandinistas appears to be coordinated with US plans. If the Israelis are really having second thoughts about their involvement with the contras, it will be important to see how they redefine their relationship with Costa Rica.

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted by permission from a chapter in Milton Jamail and Margo Gutierrez, It’s No Secret: Israel’s Military Involvement in Central America (Belmont, MA: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, July 1986).


[1] Aharon Klieman, Israeli Arms Sales: Perspectives and Prospects (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Paper 21, February 1984), p. 41. Julio Adolfo Rey Prendes, adviser to Salvadoran president Duarte, commented in an interview: “The Israeli lobby in the US Congress has worked for us more than before.” Houston Post, August 18, 1985.
[2] Edy Kaufman, Yoram Shapira and Joel Barromi, Israel-Latin American Relations (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1979), p. 108. See also Newsweek, November 20, 1978, p. 68; Bishara A. Bahbah, Israel and Latin America: The Military Connection (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), p. 132, and Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/1 (December 1984), p. 3.
[3] Matti Golan, Shimon Peres: A Biography (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1982), p. 81.
[4] Other sources report that during this period the US remained the major provider of arms and training to Somoza’s National Guard. See Marc Edelman, “Lifelines: Nicaragua and the Socialist Countries,” NACLA Report on the Americas 19/3 (May-June 1985), p. 37 and Newsweek, November 20, 1978, p. 68. The SIPRI information is from World Armaments and Disarmament: SIPRI Yearbook 1980 (London: Taylor and Francis, 1980), p. 96.
[5] Cynthia Arnson, “Israel and Central America,” New Outlook (March-April 1984), p. 20. While Israeli arms sales to Nicaragua did not attract international attention in the 1950s, there was criticism of the sales within Israel. The director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry wrote to Shimon Peres, the person who orchestrated the Nicaragua deal: “We really put our foot in it with the Nicaraguan arms deal. All the countries of Latin America shun [Nicaragua] because of its foreign policy and domestic regime. It’s a shame that you failed to consult the Foreign Ministry before going through with this deal. You know as well as I do that we are very dependent on the Latin American bloc in the United Nations, which includes twenty countries. We cannot disregard their feelings. Therefore, I am asking you immediately to order that any new deal with Nicaragua be cancelled and that shipments which have not yet gone out be held up.” (Walter Eytan, director general of the Foreign Ministry to Shimon Peres, July 5, 1957, quoted in Golan, p. 81.)
[6] Arnson, p. 20.
[7] Newsweek, November 20, 1978, p. 68.
[8] Miami Herald, November 18, 1978. The same official said that applying pressure on Israel to stop the shipments remained an option for the US that might be used in the future. The official also commented that although there is no legal means of stopping Israel from shipping Israeli-manufactured weapons, “the United States has sufficient influence with Israel to stop the shipments if it chooses.” In fact the US did pressure Israel to stop arming Somoza, but it was only two weeks before he was toppled in July 1979.
[9] Edelman, p. 37. Juan Tamayo reported in the Miami Herald (March 3, 1985) that the PLO trained “at least 150 Sandinistas in Lebanon during the 1960s and 1970s.” Tamayo’s source was a former Israeli intelligence agent who used to live in Nicaragua. This figure seems unlikely, since the FSLN was quite a small organization during this period. Edelman doubts that there were even 50 Sandinistas in the late 1960s.
[10] New Jewish Agenda, Report of the Jewish Human Rights Delegation to Nicaragua (New York: New Jewish Agenda, 1984), p. 8. For exaggerated reports of the PLO-Nicaragua relationship see Houston Chronicle, July 11, 1985; David J. Kopilow, Castro, Israel and the PLO (Washington, DC: Cuban American National Foundation, 1984), pp. 12-14; and US Department of State, The Sandinistas and Middle East Radicals (Washington, DC, August 1985).
[11] Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Human Rights in Latin America 1983 (Washington, DC, February 1984), p. 56.
[12] Washington Post, August 29, 1983.
[13] Ibid. A group of progressive Israeli Knesset members, after visiting Nicaragua in 1984, felt that the anti-Semitism issue had “been blown way out of proportion by the Reagan administration, in order to encourage American Jews to support its policies in Central America.” (Aaron Alpern, “Mapam Links With Sandinistas,” Progressive Israel 5, November-December 1984, p. 8.)
[14] Washington Post, August 29, 1983; Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1985.
[15] COHA, p. 58. Judith Elkin points out that in Latin America often no distinction is made between Israel and the Jews of Latin America. She notes: “The continuing identification of local Jews, israelitas, with Israelis, citizens of Israel, has done nothing to clarify distinctions between the two.” “The Hostage Jewish Communities of Latin America,” Paper presented to the Twelfth International Congress of Latin American Studies Association, April 18-20, 1985, Albuquerque, New Mexico, pp. 8-9.
[16] New Jewish Agenda, p. 11.
[17] Ibid; see also Alan Epstein, “A Jewish ‘Witness for Peace,’” Genesis 2 (February-March 1985); “Sandinistas and Anti-Semitism: Reagan’s Charges Are Challenged,” Latin America Regional Reports: Mexico and Central America, May 4, 1984, p. 5; Washington Post, August 19, 1984; New York Times, September 13, 1983, and Ilana De Bare and Paul Glickman, “Discrimination or Disinformation? US Accuses Nicaragua of Anti-Semitism,” Nicaraguan Perspectives 7 (Winter 1983), pp. 37-38.
[18] Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1985. See also Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1985. For a discussion of the contra aid and US assistance to Israel, see “Israel and the United States,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/9 (September 1985), p. 4.
[19] Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 14, 1986.
[20] Washington Post, November 12, 1983.
[21] Jane Hunter, “Reagan’s Unseen Ally in Central America,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/1 (December 1984), p. 1. Chamorro has since left the contras and has been openly critical of them. For details see Edgar Chamorro with Jefferson Morley, “Confessions of a ‘Contra’: How the CIA Masterminds the Nicaraguan Insurgency,” The New Republic, August 5, 1985, pp. 18-23.
[22] New York Times, July 21, 1983.
[23] Facts on File Yearbook 1984 (New York: Facts on File, 1985), p. 382.
[24] Kai Bird and Max Holland, The Nation, September 28, 1985, pp. 272-273; Houston Chronicle, March 29, 1985.
[25] NBC Nightly News, April 23, 1984.
[26] Ibid.
[27] “An Israeli Connection?” Time, May 7, 1984, p. 75.
[28] Hunter, p. 1.
[29] Ibid. See also Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1984.
[30] Hunter, p. 6. This insightful article on the Israel-US contra connection brings together a great deal of information and helps one understand the separate agendas as well as the shared interests of the three parties.
[31] Ibid., p. 6; Aaron S. Klieman, Israel’s Global Reach: Arms Sales As Diplomacy (New York: Pergamon-Brassey’s, 1985), p. 49.
[32] Washington Post, April 27, 1984.
[33] Hunter, p. 6.
[34] Miami Herald, April 29, 1984. See also Houston Chronicle, April 21, 1984.
[35] New York Times, April 27, 1984.
[36] Victor Perera, “Uzi Diplomacy: How Israel Makes Friends and Enemies Around the World,” Mother Jones (July 1985), p. 46.
[37] Klieman, Israel’s Global Reach, p. 197.
[38] Guardian, October 11, 1985.
[39] New York Times, January 13, 1985.
[40] Houston Chronicle, October 8, 1985. See also Washington Post, October 8, 1985.
[41] “Israel’s Presence in America: Fuzzing a Legitimate Issue,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/4 (March 1985), p. 6.
[42] “Nicaragua: Efforts to Heal,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/3 (February 1985), p. 2.
[43] New Jewish Agenda, p. 8. See also Washington Post, August 24, 1984.
[44] Ignacio Klich, “Israel and Nicaragua: Mapam Nails a Lie,” Middle East International, November 9, 1984, p. 11. See also Washington Post, August 24, 1984; “Israeli Policy Shift on Region?” Latin America Regional Report: Mexico and Central America, January 11, 1985, pp. 4-5; “Israel’s Part in Central America,” Central America Report, December 7, 1984, p. 383.
[45] New Jewish Agenda, p. 8.
[46] “Rights Violations Persist,” Central America Report, July 12, 1985, pp. 204-205.
[47] Cynthia Arnson, “Israel and Central America,” New Outlook (March-April 1984), p. 19.
[48] Cynthia Arnson, “Arms Race In Central America,” The Nation, March 10, 1979, p. 267. See also Washington Post, January 14, 1977.
[49] Arnson, “Arms Race,” p. 267.
[50] Washington Post, December 7, 1982; Clarence Lusane, “Washington’s Proxy: Israeli Arms Sales in Central America,” Covert Action 20 (Winter 1984), p. 34; Adrian J. English, Armed Forces of Latin America (London: Jane’s Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 286-293.
[51] Mark Hewish, et al, Air Forces of the World: An Illustrated Directory of All of the World’s Military Powers (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 46. See also Defense and Foreign Affairs Handbook (Washington, DC: The Perth Company, 1985), p. 278, and Washington Post, December 7, 1982.
[52] Steve Goldfield, Garrison State: Israel’s Role in US Global Strategy (San Francisco: Palestine Focus Publications, 1985), p. 46.
[53] “What’s Sharon Doing in Tegucigalpa?” Central America Report, December 17, 1982, p. 389. Within three weeks of his return to Israel from Honduras, the head of the Israeli Air Force, Gen. David Invri became president of Israel Aircraft Industries. Ignacio Klich, “Israel y America Latina: el desafio de un compromiso mayor al lado de Washington,” Le Monde Diplomatique en Espanol, February 1983, p. 17.
[54] New York Times, December 8, 1982. See also Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1982 and Jerusalem Post, December 10, 1982.
[55] Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 1982. See also Houston Chronicle, December 10, 1982; Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Boston: South End Press, 1983), p. 24, and Jerusalem Post, December 10, 1982. Jane Hunter points out that the Kfir deal would be in the range of $100 million and could probably only be arranged with US financing. "Sharon Met Contras in 1982," Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/10 (October 1985), p. 1.
[56] Edy Kaufman, “The View from Jerusalem,” The Washington Quarterly 7/4 (Fall 1984), pp. 42-43.
[57] Jerusalem Domestic Service in Hebrew, December 12, 1982. Translated in Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), December 13, 1982.
[58] Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 1982.
[59] New York Times, December 17, 1982.
[60] For background on El Salvador, see Philip Russell, El Salvador in Crisis (Austin, TX: Colorado River Press, 1984); Enrique Baloyra, El Salvador in Transition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982); and Walter LeFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983). For specific information on the 1969 war see Thomas P. Anderson, The War of the Dispossessed: Honduras and El Salvador, 1969 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981), and William Durham, Scarcity and Survival in Central America: Ecological Origins of the Soccer War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979).
[61] SIPRI, p. 97. See also Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1981. Klieman (Israel’s Global Reach, p. 134) concurs with the 80 percent figure, adding that this represented 6 percent of Israeli military exports. The figures are somewhat confusing since Klieman gives no specific time period.
[62] Arnson, “Israel and Central America,” p. 21.; Lusane, “Washington’s Proxy,” p. 35; English, p. 411.
[63] Kaufman, “The View from Jerusalem,” p. 45.
[64] The New Mexican (Santa Fe), August 17, 1983.
[65] New York Times, April 23, 1984.
[66] Davar, January 3, 1982. Francisco Guerra y Guerra, transcript of interview with Jane Hunter, January 26 and April 10, 1983, p. 8. See also “Israel’s Part in Central America, Part II,” Central America Report, December 14, 1984, p. 387, and Schofield Coryell, “Israel: US Proxy in Latin America,” AfricAsia, August-September 1984.
[67] Davar, May 3, 1984. Translated in FBIS, May 4, 1984.
[68] “Keeping Track: Israeli Computers in Guatemala and El Salvador,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/4 (March 1985), p. 3.
[69] Jane Hunter, “Interview with Francisco Guerra y Guerra,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/2 (January 1985), p. 8. In addition to gathering intelligence, ANSESAL — El Salvador’s executive intelligence agency — was used to carry out death-squad activities in the late 1970s according to Salvadoran and US officials. Craig Pyes, Salvadoran Rightists: The Deadly Patriots (Albuquerque: Albuquerque Journal, 1984), p. 6.
[70] Mary Jo McConahay, “Country Club Assassination — Salvador’s War Comes Back to the Capital,” Pacific News Service, March 6, 1985. Col. Lopez Nulia visited military and police installations in Guatemala in May 1985, where he received advice on urban counterinsurgency. “Assistance to El Salvador,” Enfoprensa, May 17, 1985, p. 3.
[71] Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, El Salvador 1983 (Boston: UUSC, 1983). See also New York Times, October 9, 1984.
[72] “A Burning Question in El Salvador,” Newsweek, October 8, 1984, p. 17.
[73] “Israel’s Salvadoran Protege,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/5 (April 1985), p. 6.
[74] Christian Science Monitor, January 13, 1983.
[75] Dallas Morning News, January 21, 1985.
[76] “Israel’s Salvadoran Protege,” p. 6.
[77] “Costa Rica: Bigger Role for Security Forces,” Latin America Regional Reports: Mexico and Central America, June 8, 1984, p. 7.
[78] “Costa Rica,” Israeli Foreign Affairs 1/11 (November 1985), p. 8.
[79] Jacques Lemieux, “El papel de Israel en Centroamerica,” Le Monde Diplomatique en Espanol, October 1984.
[80] Michael Rubner, “Israel and Latin America: The Politics of Bilateral Economic Aid,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1975, p. 193. See also Kaufman, Shapira and Barromi, p. 105.
[81] New York Times, December 17, 1982.
[82] San Jose, Costa Rica, Radio Reloj, December 4, 1983. Translated in FBIS, December 5, 1983.
[83] Miami Herald, May 27, 1984. See also Philadelphia Inquirer, April 24, 1984.
[84] Austin American-Statesman, February 14, 1983.
[85] Yediot Aharonot, October 25, 1982. Translated in FBIS, October 27, 1982. The Israeli consulting firm, Tahal, was also involved in the project. Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1983. The settlements in an area of conflict is not a new innovation for Israeli assistance programs. Klieman writes: “The unique Israeli formula of combining agricultural and military programs is demonstrated again in the approved plan for strengthening security in Zaire’s mineral rich southern Shaba province on the border with Angola by establishing a line of farming settlements similar to IDF paramilitary pioneering youth Nahal units to be manned by the elite Camaniola division armed and trained by Israeli officers.” Klieman, Israel’s Global Role, p. 155.
[86] For detail on Costa Rica’s role in the US attempts to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, see Richard J. Walton, “How the US Is Changing Costa Rica,” The Nation, October 5, 1985, p. 297ff, and Martha Honey and Tony Avirgan, “The Carlos File,” The Nation, October 5, 1985, p. 31 Iff.
[87] Arnson, “Israel and Central America,” p. 22.
[88] Central America Report, December 14, 1984, p. 387.
[89] Hector Frances, “The War of Terror Against Nicaragua,” The Black Scholar 14/2 (March-April 1983), p. 12.
[90] Ibid.

How to cite this article:

Margo Gutierrez, Milton Jamail "Israel in Central America," Middle East Report 140 (May/June 1986).

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