Israel, Nicaragua and the Contras


Nicaragua Under Somoza

With few qualms and minimal outside criticism, Israel came to the rescue of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle and, from September 19 7 8 to July 19 7 9, helped him stave off history. Later it would be thrown up to Israel that when Washington and just about every other government in the world was boycotting Somoza, Israel had been willing to provide him with weapons. ,


Somoza had been introduced to Israeli weapons in 1974 at a special showing arranged for him in Managua. He had bought Dabur class patrol boats and Arava STOI. aircraft; by the time he fought his final battle he would have 14 Aravas to rush his troops from place to place.S

Soon after Somoza's U.S. aid was blocked, insurrection flared against him. In Septcmber 1978, there was fighting in most of Nicaragua's cities and a massive general strike in Managua that was supported by virtually the entire business community. Somoza shot his way out of it. His National Guard used 1,000 Uzi submachine guns and Galil rifles from Israel, and Somoza was expecting "thousands more" Galils.9 Although most Latin American leaders were hoping for his downfall, Somoza survived the September challenge. "Is eli-made weapons helped to save the Somoza dynasty," read one headline.

That autumn, Israeli rifles and ammunition arrived in large quantities. Some of the Galil rifles were "sent directly to a special terror unit commanded by Somoza's son, which carried out the murder of political opponents, among them women and children."" The Guard also used the new Israeli weapons in its "clean-up" operations, which went on during October 1978 in half a dozen cities. The majority of the victims-many of them were shot by the Guard at their own front doors were between 14 and 21 years of age and were marked for execution simply because they lived in neighborhoods where the Sandinista National l.iberation Front (FSLN) had been active.

An Israeli adviser "who presented himself as an Israeli army officer" was also present in Nicaragua and worked in Somoza's bunker in Managua. The adviser allegedly represented David Marcus Katz, the Mexico-based Israeli arms dealer with close ties to the right wing Israeli settlers movement, Gush Emunim.

Israeli arms shipments continued to arrive. Several shipments came by air and were delivered at night during a curfew. Among the weapons delivered this way were surface-to-air missiles (although the Sandinistas did not have an air force). Israel had at one point given its word that it would not ship arms to Somoza. Now it denied doing so, but U.S. officials said that Israeli arms were still arriving in Nicaragua. "Our people in Managua tell us that the streets are starting to look like TerusaLembec.aus.e the National Guard is wearing 1sraeli berets," said one U.S. official.

By the following spring Israel was sending Somoza really big stuff: nine combat-armed Cessna aircraft and two Sikorsky helicopters. The FSLN shot down seven of the Cessnas. ~s Somoza got better use out of the helicopters, which he called "skyraiders." He had his Guards use them as platforms for machine gun strafing; and from 3,000 feet above ground, soldiers rolled bombs out of the helicopter doors.

"The Government is dropping 500-pound bombs from helicopters on rebel-held shantytowns, reportedly killing as many as 600 people in one day. Soldiers routinely kill suspected rebels they capture," wrote the New York Timescorrespondentin Managua ofthe final weeks ofthewar. After having all but five cities and a great part of Nicaragua's industrial infrastructure destroyed, on July 17, 1979, Somoza cleaned out the national treasury and fled the country.


Israel and the Contras

Some accounts set the commencement of Israeli aid to the contras as far back as their launching in 1979. It is even possible that Israel made a seamless transition from Somoza to the contras through its contacts with some of the figures in the private network that was exposed when the Iran-contra scandal broke in November 1986 (see below). A part of this network "began funneling aid to Somoza via Israel and EATSCO," a shipping company created by other members of the network to take advantage of the U.S. weapons Egypt would be receiving as a result of the Camp David accords, after the Carter Administration cut off aid to Nicaragua. When the dictator was ousted, network associates of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson-now serving time in federal prison for selling explosives to Libya, among other deeds-and former CIA agent Thomas Clines transferred a "security assistance program" they had put together for Somoza to the contras. This would have involved outfitting the dregs of Somoza's secret police in Honduras, a cynical holding operation that continued until January 1981, when the Reagan Administration took office.

One of the administration's first moves was to arrange with Argentina for trainers for the contras. Veterans of the Argentine "dirty war" were enthusiastic about exporting their skills and their politics. They trained the contras until Washington and Buenos Aires came to a parting of the ways, after the Reagan Administration sided with Britain during the Malvinas /Falklands War. During the Argentine period, the Israeli ambassador

to Costa Rica supplied the contras with passports and aliases so that they could travel through Central America. Besides traveling for their own "business," at least one contra has been implicated in a Central American assassination: that of the revered Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

At the same time, the administration approached Israel to become involved in the assault on Nicaragua: in a pattern that was later to become apparent as the raison d'etre of the Iran-contra scandal, sometime before June 1981 Israel was provided with satellite pictures of Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak "within the framework of an appeal to Israel for help to the contras." Israel used the pictures to destroy the reactor. It is not known to what extent, if any, Tel Aviv responded to the administration's appeal.

By late 1982, however, Nicaragua was accusing Israel of arming and aiding the rag-tag bands of National Guardsmen in Honduras.

The best-substantiated knowledge of Israel's entry into the war against Nicaragua is its agreement with the CIA in either 1981 or 1982 to supply East bloc weapons to the then-covert mercenary operation. After having been "restrained" a bit by Congress during the 1970s, the CIA was experiencing difficulty procuring "untraceable" weapons for the contras and was embarrassed when some of the mercenaries appeared on U.S. television in early 1982 brandishing U.S. weapons. In a display of caution that would mark all their dealings with the contras, the Israeli government made a pretense of refusing U.S. requests for such weapons "through normal diplomatic channels," while some former Israeli intelligence officials approached the CIA with an offer to supply East bloc arms, which Israel has in abundance. The Agency assumed that the offer had the backing, awareness or sponsorship of the Israeli government. There is some question as to whether the CIA accepted this particular offer, but an arrangement was indeed made in the early 1980s to supply the contras with East bloc light arms and shoulder-fired missiles, selling the weapons through the CIA, which in turn passed them on to the contras and the Afghan rebels. This particular arrangement apparently continued until 1986, "[w]hen the Israelis presented their bill for $50 million...[and] the CIA pleaded poverty, paying $30 million in arms, not cash."

Former FDN Director Edgar Chamorro said the contras were speaking of Israel as an international supporter in 1982.'7 In December of that year, the FDN leadership met with Ariel Sharon, Israel's defense minister, while he was on a visit to Honduras. An arrangement was made at that time to funnel Israeli-held East bloc arms to the contras through Honduras.


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