What’s so fuss about supplying arms to Myanmar?

So what’s so fuss about supplying arms to Myanmar by Israeli defense companies when Ukraine, Russia, China, North Korea, Pakistan and India are arming Tatmadaw?

Myanmar’s relationship with the Israeli military is much smaller in scale, but still significant. A UN report from August 2019 accused 15 companies from seven countries, including Israel, of selling military hardware since 2016 to a division of Myanmar’s military known as the Tatmadaw Special Operations Task Force, during its brutal campaign against the Rohingya minority which drove out more than 700,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.

A representative of Myanmar’s military at the Israel Defense and Homeland Security Expo in Tel Aviv, June 4, 2019.

The report’s finding identified 15 foreign companies from Ukraine, Russia, India, the Philippines, North Korea, China, South Korea, Pakistan, Sweden and recently Japan are partnering with the country’s military conglomeration groups, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), as well as 44 other firms with business connections to the Myanmar army, known as Tatmadaw.

In 2017, garments comprised 72.2 percent of the €1.56 billion (US$1.8 billion) in exports to Europe, one of the few regions with which Myanmar enjoys a trade surplus. A spokesperson for Swedish clothes retailer H&M, which entered Myanmar in 2013 and now sources from 40 factories employing 43,000 people, told Frontier newspaper that withdrawing EU trade privileges would be a big setback for the ready-made garments sector in Myanmar.

A representative of Myanmar’s military at the Israel Defense and Homeland Security Expo in Tel Aviv, June 4, 2019.

In September 2015, during a visit by Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Israel announced it would be selling the country Super Dvora III patrol boats; according to reports by the Myanmar navy, the ships were delivered in April 2017. The armaments reportedly sold to Myanmar include over 100 tanks, weapons and boats that have been used to police the country’s border.

In October 2016, an Israeli military equipment and training company, known as TAR Ideal Concepts, posted photographs on its website of its personnel training the Tatmadaw Special Operations Taskforce. Widespread criticism of Israeli arms sales to Myanmar could mean that the arms exports will stop – but the fact that Israel knowingly sold weapons to the regime in the first place says a great deal about its lack of human rights considerations.

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Representatives of Myanmar’s military attended Israel’s largest, government-supported security and weapons conference in Tel Aviv last year. The officials arrived at the Tel Aviv Expo Center for the International Defense, HLS & Cyber Expo, known as ISDEF, in full military gear. There they browsed through defense equipment and technologies produced by Israeli and international companies, alongside delegates of dozens more countries.

Myanmar military officials are seen at an Israeli arms expo in early June 2019.

Israel’s arms sales to Myanmar is still ongoing despite the international ban on the Southeast Asian country. According to Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, his side cannot stop the sale of weapons as it complies with the existing agreement.

Mack noted that there were a handful of officials in the Israeli Defense Ministry overseeing some 400,000 annual permits issued for weapons sales. “That means in practice, there is no oversight at all,” he said.

Israeli companies, meanwhile, are authorized to sell arms to some 130 countries, though activists say there are other states with which Israel deals covertly including Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Jordan and Egypt.

Israel’s military exports rose by 41 per cent overall in 2017, the third consecutive year of increased defence exports, bringing in some $9.2 billion in contracts. That included a 70% jump in sales to Africa.

The largest distribution of sales, some 58 per cent was in Asia-Pacific, with Israel’s top three customers all originating from the region; India soaring ahead at $715 million, with Vietnam at $142 million and Azerbaijan at $137 million in second and third place respectively.

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