Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 1989, Page 41
It's No Secret: Israel's Military Involvement in Latin America
By Milton Jamail and Margo Gutierrez. Belmont, MA: AAUG Press. 1986. 117pp. $7.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Ike Nahem
The ongoing crisis of US foreign policy in Central America is also a crisis for the state of Israel. This is one evident conclusion to be drawn from the data accumulated in Milton Jamail and Margo Gutierrez's valuable It's No Secret: Israel's Military Involvement in Latin America.
The 1986 monograph comprehensively presents Israel's historic relationship with rightist dictatorships and forces in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua under Somoza, as well as the contras. It's No Secret should be recognized as a groundbreaking work in exposing the longstanding and long-ignored Israeli covert intervention in Central America. There is no getting around the fact that, in Central America, Israel has provided major military and strategic support to some of the world's bloodiest military tyrannies.
The veracity of the volume stands up well in light of important events that have taken place since it was published. Although published before the revelations of the Iran-contra scandal, the book cites evidence of hidden US-Israeli operations in Central America.
It's No Secret implicitly poses some fundamental questions: What is the connection between Israeli policies in Central America and toward the Palestinian Arabs? Are they in contradiction? Or do they flow naturally? How are Israeli policies coordinated with Washington, a not uninterested participant in Central American affairs? Is there a conscious "division of labor" in Central America between Washington and its Israeli strategic ally? Or, is the clear convergence of policies just a coincidence?
Long-Term Israeli Ties
Throughoutthe 1950s, Israeli military aid to the Somoza dictatorship was generous and failed to generate much publicity or controversy in the US or Israel. However, in late 1978, while Washington felt impelled finally to cut aid to the failing Somoza family dictatorship, Israel's long support and military sustenance to the Nicaraguan despot's supporters never stopped up to the day chartered planes took the lot of them to Miami.
Going back to the early 1970s, It's No Secret cites figures of Israel's military sales and strategic and police assistance to the military governments of El Salvador and Honduras. Israel provided Honduras, Central America's poorest country, with its first 12 modern fighter bombers, and paved some of the roads used to sustain the direct, massive US military buildup in Honduras from 1982 to now.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that, from 1975 to 1979, 83 percent of El Salvador's military imports came from Israel, a full 6 percent of Israel's total military exports. This aid took place at an important turning point for the Salvadoran government which was in crisis under growing popular pressure.
It's No Secret gives the most coverage and detail to Israel's military, strategic, and police intervention in Guatemala, its most extensive in Central America, and carrying the most devastating social and human costs. Since the CIA organized the overthrow of the democratically elected Arbenz government in 1954, hundreds of thousands of ordinary, poor Guatemalans have been murdered by successive military governments. During the 1960s, guerrilla movements opposed to military rule were virtually wiped out in counterinsurgency campaigns organized by Washington.
Israel Steps In
These movements resurfaced in the 1970s, with the strongest bases of support in the indigenous Indian populations. Under mounting political pressures, Washington formally cut off military aid and training to the Guatemalan army in 1977. Israel, however, has been in the forefront of sustaining and training the Guatemalan military, providing the bulk of military "aid and advice" since 1977.
It's No Secret leaves no doubt that Israel's role was central and crucial to the implementation of the extermination campaign against Guatemala's Indians that began in the late 1970s. From 1981 to 1984 the death toll is estimated at between 50,000 and 75,000. From time to time, the Guatemalan generals and rulers gratefully acknowledge Israel's crucial contribution to their "national security."
It is often said that the foreign policy of a state is an extension of its domestic policy. The current infifadah has underlined that Israel's most fundamental "foreign policy problem" has always been its "domestic problem": what to do with the indigenous Palestinian population. It's No Secret makes it hard not to conclude that the international alliances pursued by Israel flow from its policies in dealing with the Palestinians and the Arab world.
Isaac Nahem recently returned from a union congress in El Salvador. He is a passenger engineer with Amtrak and a member of United Transportation Union Local 1522.