Bishara Bahbah, Israel and Latin America: The Military Connection (New York: St. Martin’s Press with the Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986).
As the Iran-contra scandal deepens and the central role of Israel becomes clearer, there is increased interest in the complex relationship between the Middle East and Latin America. Prior to November 1986, however, considerable research had already been done on Israel’s military involvement in South and Central America. One of the best products of these investigations is Bishara Bahbah’s book. It is a concise explanation of the Israeli arms industry, that industry’s need for foreign markets, and an in-depth account of the effect of Israeli sales on Latin America. The book is impeccably researched and well written, and provides a very readable account of this important issue.
Bahbah argues that although Israel exports between $1 and $2 billion annually in arms, “the significance of the Israeli arms industry does not lie in these figures” but “in what has become Israel’s absolute imperative to export arms.” Export sales make it possible for Israel’s military industries to produce larger quantities at lower per unit cost for Israel’s own military forces. This dependence on foreign arms sales leads Israel to cooperate with extreme right-wing regimes and to a growing involvement in a global agenda set by the United States.
Bahbah’s section on Central America is a bit limited when compared with other recently published accounts of the Israeli military involvement in that region. But his case studies of Ecuador and Argentina more than compensate. Since the dollar amounts of Israeli arms sales to South America are considerably higher than those to Central America, the inclusion of these countries is important to an understanding of the rationale and motives for Israeli involvement in the hemisphere.
Particularly noteworthy are Bahbah’s charts of the major Israeli arms firms, foreign investment in Israeli military industries, Israeli arms customers by region, and Israeli arms exports to South and Central America. On the last two categories, each item of sale is listed separately, thus making verification of the source less complicated.
Bahbah’s book is an important addition to the literature of the Middle East and Latin America. It is a pioneering work and one that will serve as a baseline study for anyone interested in exploring further the relations between these two regions that are likely to continue to be a major focus of US foreign policy.