The Israeli state was not established outside of imperial interests and the expansion of global capitalist development. It was formed in the name of it. It is imperative to make the distinction that Israel is a part of the American imperialist project, rather than the Zionist lobby dictating American policy.
Roots in settler-colonial violence
The formation of the Israeli state and its current existence, no doubt, has been and still is rooted in colonial violence. The 1917 Balfour Declaration vowed to establish a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people. The British, however, did not vow to steal land and gift it to Jewish people out of the goodness of their hearts. The creation of Israel would allow them to intensify British influence over the Middle East, and control over the Suez Canal.
The 1948 Nakba marks an intense uptick in colonial violence, referring to the catastrophe of ethnic cleansing, and displacement of at least 750,000 of the Indigenous Palestinian population. The cultural genocide and dispossession of Palestinians is a requirement for the existence of the Israeli state.
From short-lived socialism to a pawn of global militarism
Interestingly, a founding vision for Israel included kibbutz, the “[…] utopian commune that fused egalitarianism, farming, and Zionism.” Unsurprisingly, a state formed through settler colonialism and “for the salvation of Western interests,” as quoted by James Baldwin in 1979, did not stay true to its socialist origins.
Israel made a distinct divergence from a “Young Socialist Nation” to a global capitalist state fuelled by militarism with active involvement in anti-communist efforts. Post WWII and in the Cold War context, influence over the Middle East was sought-after by the US. In fact, the United States’ de facto recognition of the state of Israel was reflective of US foreign policy devoted to combatting the spectre of the spread of communism. The USSR also recognized and supported the creation of Israel.
The United States’ first major imperial intervention in the post-War period in the Middle East was the CIA-backed coup overthrowing democratically elected Iranian leader Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. With the installation of the US-preferred authoritarian Shah government, over 40 percent of Iranian oil fields were signed off to US corporations.
The spectre of anticolonial liberation movements from British and French control prompted the US to propel influence over the Middle East. When Egyptian president Gamal Nasser attempted to nationalize the Suez Canal in 1956, the British, the French and Israel attempted to join forces and gain control over the canal. However, the US threatened sanctions on all three countries, and eventually Israel caved under their pressure and thus, the US manufactured Israel’s loyalty.
US military aid to Israel began in 1959. The Reagan administration considered Israel a “strategic asset” to its influence over the Middle East. After the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has continuously acted as a proxy for the US to arm and train countries that they do not want to tout their support for. This is why Israel’s involvement in Latin American conflicts can be understood as a direct reflection of its existence as an imperial project.
Extension of American empire: Israel in Latin America
The US suspended military aid to Guatemala in 1977—their human rights abuses were a bad look, so Israel stepped in for them. Israeli president Ephrain Katzir signed an agreement supplying the Guatemalan military with $38 million worth of arms during the civil war period, including rifles, helicopters, equipment for surveillance, and training. The Guatemalan civil war began in 1960 and ended in 1996. In the late 1970s, when Israel signed this arms agreement, the Guatemalan civil war was entering its genocidal peak—approximately 200,000 were killed, many of those being the Indigenous Mayan population who were revolting against their oppressive government.
Israel was one of the largest arms suppliers of Chile during Augusto Pinochet’s regime. Pinochet was a fascist dictator who seized power in 1973 through a US backed coup overthrowing socialist leader Salvador Allende. During Pinochet’s rule, approximately 130,000 people were arrested and tortured, more than 3000 were killed, and around 200,000 were forced into exile. Israel had military ties with the regime in 1974. When the US suspended all military exports to Chile in 1976, Israel stepped in as the primary supplier. Arms included missiles, aircraft, naval vessels, cluster bomb technology, and light arms. Israel was also involved with secret intelligence work, aiding internal security forces of the Pinochet regime.
Yair Klein, Israeli colonel and mercenary, was convicted in Colombia for training paramilitary forces from the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) in the 1980s. According to Colombia Reports and the El Espectador, he was contracted by the CIA to train the Colombian military on the island of Antigua to prepare to overthrow the Panamanian government in a coup.
The operation never occurred; Klein claimed that the operation was called off one week prior to when it was supposed to occur. However, in December 1989, the US military invaded Panama and overthrew their government. Prior to being sentenced to 10 years in prison for providing training to the AUC, Klein was sentenced to 16 months in prison in 1999 for arming rebels in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Klein had also established Spearhead Ltd, a private mercenary group that had trained and armed militaries in Lebanon, Sierra Leone, and Colombia.
Israel has been selling arms to Mexico since the 1970s. Military equipment has included missiles, small arms, airplanes, and helicopters. In 1994, the Zapatistas revolted against the Mexican government and took back large plots of land where they built collective clinics, schools, and subsistence cooperatives. The Zapatistas have since faced the implementation of several counterinsurgency programs.
Llaven Abarca was appointed Mexico’s head of security in December of 2012. Immediately, human rights organizations expressed concern, pointing to his history of extensive use of public force, torture, and death threats. Abarca publicly stated there was communication with the Israeli military, claiming they were “aimed at sharing experiences.”
In May of 2013, a Mexican news article stated that Israel’s military was to start training the Mexican police force in Chiapas, which is where the Zapatista National Liberation Army, predominantly Maya Indigenous, is stationed. While the Israeli defense minister Yaron Yugman claimed this training would be in the name of a country’s security being “fundamental to its growth,” the general history of nation states’ treatment of Indigenous populations—Israel’s treatment of Palestinians being a prime example—should be enough to gather that the security and growth of a nation is not typically afforded to Indigenous populations.
As Al Jazeera has noted, Israel’s military involvement with Latin American right-wing groups and regimes spans far and wide; a comprehensive list of Latin American countries Israel has armed and trained includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
Two key themes can be extracted from Israel’s Latin American involvement: anti-socialist and anti-communist efforts through acting by proxy for the US in arms supplying; and backing coups and the repression of Indigenous liberation movements. These are aligned with the maintenance of the American empire and the US as a superpower, and the part of the existence of the Israeli state can be understood as an extension of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
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