Than Shwe’s foreign friends


Having already cited Amnesty’s report on the possibility of our local arms industry having supplied the Burmese Tatmadaw, news arrives from David Bloom on WW4 Report that the junta have a rather more significant supplier. And Bloom has dug up a detailed report from William Ashton in Jane’s Intelligence Review from back in 2000, telling us just who that supplier is. Yes, it’s the country that has the most illustrious record of sanctions-busting, including its supplying of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, apartheid South Africa and neo-Nazi colonels in Guatemala. Guess who:

In August 1997 it was revealed that the Israeli defence manufacturing company Elbit had won a contract to upgrade Myanmar’s (then) three squadrons of Chinese-built F-7 fighters and FT-7 trainers. The F-7 is a derivative of the Mikoyan MiG-21 ‘Fishbed’ jet fighter. The FT-7 is the export version of the GAIC JJ-7, itself a copy of the MiG-21 ‘Mongol-B’ trainer. Since they began to be delivered by China in 1991, the Myanmar Air Force has progressively acquired about 54 (or four squadrons) of these aircraft, the latest arriving at Hmawbi air base only last year. In related sales, the air force has also acquired about 350 PL-2A air-to-air missiles (AAM) from China and at least one shipment of the more sophisticated PL-5 AAMs…

Around 1998 Myanmar negotiated the purchase of 16 155mm Soltam towed howitzers, possibly through a third party like Singapore. These guns are believed to be second-hand pieces no longer required by the Israel Defence Force. Last year, ammunition for these guns (including high explosive and white phosphorous rounds) was ordered from Pakistan’s government ordnance factories. Before the purchase of these new Chinese and North Korean weapons, Myanmar’s largest artillery pieces were 105mm medium guns, provided by the USA almost 40 years ago. Acquiring the Israeli weapons thus marks a major capability leap for Myanmar’s army gunners. It is possible that either Israel or Pakistan has provided instructors to help the army learn to use and maintain these new weapons.

Nor has the Myanmar Navy missed out on Israeli assistance. There have been several reports that Israel is playing a crucial role in the construction and fitting out of three new warships, currently being built in Yangon.

Ashton further speculates that the Israeli state’s increasingly close relationship with the Burmese junta may be connected to a broader promotion of its commercial and strategic interests in the region, as evidenced by its already close relationship with Singapore and penetration of the Chinese arms market. That seems plausible to me, and may be worth considering when the Empire and its ideological caddies start shooting their mouths off about non-proliferation. It may be comforting to believe in an Axis of Evil, where the “democracies” line up neatly against the “rogue states” (anyone remember the “Slobo armed Saddam” story for an especially ludicrous example?), but the reality of the arms trade is that the bottom line trumps all other considerations.

Hat tip: Mark.


  1. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 30, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    Soft power and hard power used to influence. Amazing stuff really. But predictable.

    Incidentally, I think I like the redesign…

  2. Ed Hayes said,

    October 1, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    On the subject of dodgy alliances I think a little research would show up interesting links between Sir Anthony O’Reilly and Robert Mugabe’s regime (I kid you not). If I’m not mistaken Mugabe spoke at UCD in the 1990s at the invite of the Bean Baron. Lets see what Senator Harris and the SINDO make of that.

  3. Ed Hayes said,

    October 1, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    BTW, I can barely read the new text on my PC. Is there any way I can adjust this?

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 1, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    Maybe it’s the contrast? I’m finding it a little bit sharper than it used to be.

  5. Phil said,

    October 1, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    I can read it now & couldn’t before (I had to enlarge it to make the text readable). Mind you, my screen resolution is 1680×1050.

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