Myanmar Military Officials’ Presence at Israeli Arms Expo Raises Eyebrows

By The Irrawaddy 7 June 2019

YANGON—The appearance of several Myanmar military officials at an Israeli military arms expo in Tel Aviv has international human rights groups alarmed, and raises questions about the Israeli military’s denial of selling weapons to the Myanmar military, a pariah in the international community.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz exposed the attendance of a Myanmar military major and two captains at the Israel Defense and Homeland Security Expo, also known as ISDEF, on June 4.

Office of the Commander-in-Chief spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said he had no idea about the military officials attending the expo, but that some officers would probably join such an exhibition if invited by the host country.

“Whenever there is an exhibition in China or Russia, our officials join the event, but I am not sure about the Israeli expo. Attending arms expos is nothing serious, I think,” he said.

A UN Fact Finding Mission has accused the military, also known as the Tatmadaw, of committing “ethnic cleansing” with “genocidal intent” on the Rohingya community in 2017, an atrocity that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya across the Bangladesh border, creating the largest refugee camp in modern history.

When the international community called on Myanmar military officials, including commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court—where a preliminary probe has since begun—for their role in the crisis, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled against arms sales to Myanmar. The Israeli government has “steadfastly” claimed to have halted selling arms here since, Haaretz writes.

According to coverage of the arms expo by both the American news magazine Newsweek and the Israeli commentary magazine +972, Israeli-Myanmar military cooperation has not been canceled. The Jewish state has been on good terms with the Myanmar military for decades.

Army chief Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing pays a visit to a submarine construction site in Moscow in April 2019. / Myawaddy

Last month, the human rights group Amnesty International slammed the Israeli government for its record of arms sales, urging it to stop arming countries that violate human rights, including Myanmar, on which it is supposed to be enforcing an ongoing embargo.

“Israeli companies continue to export weapons to countries that systematically violate human rights,” the Amnesty International report reads. “Often these weapons reach their destination after a series of transactions, thereby skirting international monitoring and the rules of Israel itself.”

Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said recently that renewed European Union sanctions wouldnot have any serious impact on [the Myanmar’s military] as most of its arsenal is of Russian and Chinese origin.”

During an interview Thursday, Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun declined to say whether or not the Israeli military ranks with Russia and China in the top three biggest arms suppliers for the Tatmadaw. He said that Myanmar, as a sovereign state, has a right to purchase weapons and military-related technologies from arms manufacturers, so long as they’re not from restricted countries.

In a recent military press conference in Naypyiaw, military spokespeople told reporters that Myanmar is considering an advanced submarine for maritime security in its territorial waters. The comment came after a visit from Min Aung Hlaing to Russia in April, where he observed submarine construction at the Admiralteyskie Verfy Shipyard.

According to Myawaddy News, the army chief had discussed with the deputy chief of the Russian navy cooperation on military technology and training between the two nations’ armies and navies, including an exchange of warship visits.

Since April, Moscow has been assembling SU-30SM multi-role fighter jets for Myanmar under a contract with a net worth of about US$205 million (313 billion kyats) the two signed in 2018.

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