Burma Military Chief Tours Israeli Defense Firms

By Yan Pai 9 September 2015

RANGOON — Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Burma Armed Forces, has toured a naval base and defense manufacturers in Israel this week during a goodwill tour alongside senior military brass.

Along with local defense officials, Burma’s Air Force and Navy chiefs of staff and several other generals, Min Aung Hlaing visited Ashdod Naval Base to inspect a FAC Super Dvora Mark 3 patrol boat, an unknown number of which have been ordered from Israel by Burma’s military.

The Super Dvora Mark 3, manufactured in 2004, is designed to operate in shallow waters. A total of 16 vessels are in active service in the Israeli Navy.

Arriving in the country on Sunday, the commander-in-chief has also toured the offices of Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and its subsidiary, Elta Systems Ltd. In addition to manufacturing the FAC Super Dvora vessels, IAI produces a range of fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles for military use.

While Min Aung Hlaing’s visit is the first time a chief of the Burma Armed Forces has traveled to the country in 56 years, there has been an enduring and secretive military relationship between the two countries for decades.

Former Prime Minister U Nu established ties with Israel in the 1950s, receiving assistance in the agricultural and construction sectors. Enamored of the young country’s “kibbutzim” system of agricultural cooperatives, he established four model villages in Shan State on kibbutz principles.

In 1954, U Nu sent the first military delegation to Israel to study the country’s defense forces and develop a plan for establishing a military academy. While U Nu was head of state, Israel sold fighter jets, machine guns and ammunition to Burma sent an Israeli delegation to Rangoon to train pilots.

After Burma’s 1962 military coup, the country maintained defense ties with Israel, even as Gen. Ne Win withdrew Burma from the world stage. After much of the international community imposed sanctions against Burma in the wake of the 1988 Uprising, arms and ammunition continue to arrive at Rangoon Port through Singapore.

In 1991, Israeli weapons manufacturers sold Uzi submachine guns and 150mm howitzers to the military regime. At the time, there were unconfirmed reports that veteran members of the Israeli military helped to upgrade the Burma Armed Forces’ communications network.

In August 1997, Jane’s Defence Weekly reported Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit won a contract to upgrade Chinese-made F-7 fighter jets. The journal also claimed that three Chinese-made corvettes, assembled at Sin Ma Like Dockyard in Rangoon, were equipped with Israeli-made radar and weapon systems.