Israel, Honduras and Costa Rica



Honduras was one of Israel's first arms customers in Central America. Between 1975 and 1977, this second poorest of all countries in the Western Hemisphere bought 20 French super-Mystere fighter planes from Israel. Delivered at a time when it was U.S. policy to discourage the acquisition of sophisticated weaponry in Central America, these were the first supersonic aircraft in the region; some were equipped with Israeli-made Shafrir heat-seeking missiles.

The Hondurans bought a range of other Israeli arms: Arava STOL aircraft, a fleet of armored vehicles mounted with recoilless rifles, and Galil rifles and Uzi submachine guns. For all its poverty, when Ariel Sharon visited Honduras, he was calling on one of Israel's three biggest clients. In the wake of Sharon's visit came more arms and training-both in Israel and Honduras for officers, pilots and troops.

In 1981, Israeli radar operators were at work at a Honduran airbase. Honduran officials never chafed at the Israeli presence-on the contrary, on one occasion, exasperated with the on-again off-again contra war, Honduran military leaders suggested that Israel, Chile, Colombia or Brazil take over the contra program for the U.S. Gen. Julio Perez, the Honduran army logistics chief, signed false end user certificates for Israeli weapons shipments to the contras.

Israel also benefited from the fits and starts with which Honduras assented to serve as a U.S. "aircraft carrier." In October 1986, in an effort to get Honduras to agree to tolerate U.S. training of contras on its soil, the U.S. revived the notion of selling the Hondurans advanced aircraft. Emblematic of Israel's in-touch status in Honduras, before Washington could prepare the papers for the F-5Es it was offering, Israel had the Tegucigalpa government's signature on a preliminary agreement to buy 24 Kfir combat aircraft-a deal that could be worth as much as $200 million. To coax their quick agreement, Israel had assured the Hondurans that Washington would finance the deal. An incredulous State Department official said no such approval had been given. At the time the Jerusalem Post said that the National Security Council would have final say on the arrangements. Later it would be revealed that the Kfir sale was one side of a quid pro quo which would have sent Israeli advisers to the contras. Still later, the Kfir sale fell through.



Costa Rica

Someday it may be precisely known how great a role Israel played in subverting the government of Costa Rica to accede to Washington's use of its territory as a secondary base in the war against Nicaragua. More is presently known about how the U.S. bribed Costa Rican officials to turn a blind eye to the contras; how they ran a CIA and then a "private" operation the northern part of the country, which included foreign mercenaries, drug running, a clandestine airstrip, and at least two assassination attempts and managed to exercise a progressively greater influence on the small, relatively democratic nation's media, as the contra campaign wore on.

Israel, however, had the inside track. Luis Alberto Monge, elected to the Costa Rican presidency in 1982, is probably one of the strongest Zionists in Central America. Formerly Costa Rican ambassador to Israel, during his presidential campaign Monge promised to move Costa Rica's embassy to Jerusalem, while his foreign-minister-to-be said that the National Liberation Party would hold relations with Israel to be a "principal preoccupation." In May 1982, Costa Rica became the first government to return its embassy to the city which all other nations had deserted when Israel annexed and declared Jerusalem its undivided capital in 1980

Costa Rica did not have an army, but it did have one of the highest foreign debts in the world, and that gave Israel somewhat of a handle. Soon after his election, Monge met in the U.S. with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who introduced him to a number of leading bankers thus helping him to renegotiate Costa Rica's debt to private banks.

Begin pressed Monge hard to abandon the neutrality Costa Rica had maintained since 1948, in effect seconding the words of Reagan's UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, that if Costa Rica wanted aid from Washington, it would have to create an army.

Begin offered military aid and in January 1983 the Costa Rican Public Security Minister visited Israel, touring defense plants and meeting with Defense Minister Sharon, Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir had been in Costa Rica the previous October and offered non-military cooperation.

Limited amounts of Israeli military aid began to flow to Costa Rica's police forces, and Israelis came to train the security police, special tactical squads and intelligence agents. Israelis themselves carried out various "intelligence activities" in Costa Rica.

Israel's parastatal Tahal collaborated with with U.S. AID to develop a border barrier comprising roads, electronic barriers, and an agribusiness/ settlement scheme. It was an open secret that this installation was part of the campaign against Nicaragua.

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