Israel to ban Myanmar military officials from future arms expos

Myanmar commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing meets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in September 2015. Photo: Facebook / Senior General Min Aung Hlaing
Myanmar commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing meets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in September 2015. Photo: Facebook / Senior General Min Aung Hlaing

A day after the US government became the first to officially level sanctions at Myanmar’s top military brass, the Israelis are adding a bit of insult to injury.

The Netanyahu government has banned Myanmar military representatives from attending future arms expos in the country after an embarrassing report documented their presence at an annual Tel Aviv annual arms expo last month, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Israel has been under fire since Haaretz spotted the Tatmadaw officials at the Israel Defense and Homeland Security expo, despite an international arms embargo against the country.

The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed to the newspaper that officials from Myanmar would not be allowed to enter the country to attend arms expos as long as Myanmar “remains under an international arms embargo over its human rights violations.” 

While plenty of Israeli weapons suppliers are present at the annual convention, a look at the 2017 exhibitor list — the most recent one available — showed its truly global nature, with 170 companies from everywhere from Germany to China to the US joining 122 local firms.

According to the Haaretz report, while some sellers at the exposition claimed they were “unaware that sales to Myanmar had been banned,” others acknowledged they understood the restrictions in the place but were happy to show their wares to Myanmar officials all the same.

Israel has a long history of ignoring international arms embargoes dating back to the 1960s, selling arms to South Africa, Zaire, Iran, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, before the nation ever inked arms deals with Myanmar. 

However, the country has of late specifically said that they are honoring the embargo, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon telling Haaretz in June that “Israel does not sell arms to Myanmar, and this policy has not changed.”

In 2015, Israel moved to sign a defense deal with Myanmar that covered military training, security policies, management and technological development. Later that same year, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing visited the country, the first visit by a Myanmar military leader since 1955, to meet with Israeli military officials to discuss cooperation between their armies. 

Since then, there have been indications that Israel has quietly continued to sell arms and military equipment to Myanmar including an arms deal worth tens of millions struck with Myanmar’s navy then documented on its Facebook. 

In April 2017, the country’s navy uploaded images of a Super Dvora MK III ship with the caption, “Welcome to Myanmar Navy!” just months before Myanmar’s military launched a brutal campaign of rape, torture and massacre against the minority Rohingya population in Northern Rakhine State.

The Myanmar military has been accused of crimes against humanity and genocide by numerous international rights organizations after driving out more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh. They’ve since been accused of additional atrocities amid a protracted war with the rebell Arakan Army that began earlier this January. 

On Wednesday, the United States government banned Myanmar’s commander-in-chief and three other top generals from traveling to the country, eight months after the US House of Representatives adopted a resolution describing August 2017 events in Northern Rakhine as “genocide.”

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