John Rose


Israel: The Hijack State


The Arming of Israel


The arming of Israel 1948-1986

In 1982, the year that Israel invaded Lebanon, Israel boasted it was the third most powerful military force in the world. [1]

Delusions of grandeur? Perhaps they were. But in the same year the eminently respectable International Institute for Strategic Studies ranked Israel fourth in the world’s military league, beneath only the USA, the USSR and China. [2] Certainly militarism has become a cornerstone of Israeli society. Arms exports long ago replaced oranges and grapes as Israel’s main export earner.

However the point is that Israel’s undoubted military capability only makes sense if seen directly as an extension of the United States’ military capability. In 1982 the publicly-available figures suggested US aid to Israel was worth 1,000 dollars per Israeli citizen, the highest anywhere in the world. In fact a report to the US Congress that same year suggested that the aid may well be 60 per cent higher. [3] But even the public figures are astounding. Between 1978 and 1982 Israel received 48 per cent of all US military aid world-wide and 35 per cent of all US economic aid. For the year 1983 Reagan suggested 2.5 billion dollars for Israel out of a total US aid bill of 8.1 billion dollars. In addition there is a regular pattern of loans, and weapons at special discount prices, not to mention tax deductible “charitable” contributions for US corporations and citizens.

And this was before the invasion of Lebanon. Since then the aid budget has tripled. As these figures from the Jerusalem Post [4] make clear:

TOTAL AID (in millions of dollars)












Less payment on
outstanding loans






Net grant






At the press conference after his first election as president in 1980, Ronald Reagan explained the American government’s enthusiasm for Israel:

Israel was, he said, “combat-ready” and has a “combat-experienced military ... a force in the Middle East that is actually of benefit to US. If there was no Israel with that force, we’d have to supply that with our own.” [5]

But withdraw that US aid and nothing is left. Israel’s economy is in an indescribable mess. The Israeli state would simply not survive if the American dollar was withdrawn. In the same year that Israel was boasting of its military prowess a report published by the international banks ranked 114 countries in order of potential economic instability and dependency on foreign aid. Only 22 were considered more unstable than Israel. [6] Here Israel found itself in the same league as Angola, Haiti and El Salvador, but with one difference. Israel’s citizens expect a Western-style standard of living, not that of a third world’ country.

As long as American aid lasts, Israel will continue to be its military arm in the Middle East. How, then, has this military combination come about?

In April 1986, the month of the bombing of Libya, the Jerusalem Post commented:

... the years have shown the US that other so-called strategic assets in the region have been only temporary: from the days of Libya’s King Idris to the present regimes of Iran, Ethiopia or even indecisive Greece. [7]

The reference to Greece is apposite. The US strategy for the region immediately after the Second World War was preoccupied with the defeat of left-wing insurgents in Greece. In March 1947 US president Truman, announcing what became known as “the Truman Doctrine”, observed that it was “necessary only to glance at the map” to see that if Greece should fall to the rebels, “confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East.” [8]

A CIA report the next year warned that in the event of a left-wing victory in Greece, the US would face “the possible loss of petroleum resources of the Middle East (comprising 40 per cent of the world reserves).” [9] The CIA foresaw the need for a military alliance in the region which could guarantee US interests.

Israel was desperate to play a crucial part in such an alliance. In 1951, the year that Mossadeq nationalised oil in Iran, the influential Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz spelled out Israel’s watchdog role in defence of US and British interests:

The feudal regimes in the Middle East have had to make such concessions to the nationalist movements ... that they become more and more reluctant to supply Britain and the United States with their natural resources and military bases ... Strengthening Israel helps the Western powers maintain equilibrium ... in the Middle East.

Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the US and Britain. But if for any reasons the western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighbouring states whose discourtesy to the west went beyond the bounds of the permissible. [10]

Here was the direct offer to smash down precisely that brand of Arab nationalism which might seize power in any of the Arab countries, nationalising US or British oil interests on the one hand and stirring up Arab hostility to the West on the other.

The exact military links between the US and Israel at this time have remained a closely guarded secret. But a US National Security Council memorandum of 1958 noted that a “logical corollary” of opposition to radical Arab nationalism “would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-west power left in the near East”. [11] Meanwhile in the mid-1950s Israel concluded a pact with the region’s most viciously right-wing dictators, Ethiopia, Turkey and the Shah in Iran. The biographer of Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, recalled that this “periphery pact” was encouraged by John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State. [12]

The new watchdog could hardly wait to bare its teeth. When the Middle East’s most prominent Arab nationalist leader, Gamel Abdel Nasser, who had seized power in Egypt in 1952, nationalised the Suez Canal four years later, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai and the Gaza Strip, while British and French planes bombed Egypt itself. The Americans, at that time, saw the move as counter-productive and had to restrain Israel.

It was the 1967 war between Israel and her Arab neighbours that most convinced the USA that it had in Israel an utterly dependable ally. Undoubtedly the main aim of the war was to bring Arab nationalism to heel once and for all. Humiliation of its principal regime, Nasser’s Egypt, was the first glittering prize. The handsome second prize for Israel was the seizure of a huge area of new territory, which included the West Bank of the River Jordan. The US made plain its glowing appreciation of Israel’s role in a memorandum from the State Department:

Israel has probably done more for the US in the Middle East in relation to money and effort invested than any of our so-called allies and friends elsewhere around the world since the end of the Second World War. In the Far East, we can get almost nobody to help US in Vietnam. Here, the Israelis won the war singlehandedly, have taken US off the hook, and have served our interests as well as theirs. [13]

The reference to America’s sense of isolation in Vietnam is also not without interest in this context. General Moshe Dayan, who commanded Israel’s forces in the 1967 war, had recently toured Vietnam as a guest of the US Forces. He was extremely impressed with this new aggressive arm of US imperialism. He noted that the strategy was identical to that employed by the Israelis, so anticipating the 1982 invasion of Lebanon:

The US and Israel employ almost identical language in speaking of reprisal actions. The formula employed is that the cost in aiding the enemy ... must be made so high that those involved will no longer be able to pay for it. [14]

After 1967 the US sent Israel a flood of sophisticated weapons, including Phantom jets. In the four years following the war Israel would receive 1.5 billion dollars worth of arms from the US – ten times the amount sent in the previous twenty years. This period, of course, coincides with the growing strength of OPEC – especially after Gadaffi seized power in Libya in 1969.

Israel’s dependence on US military assistance has also encouraged the US to use Israel as a “test-bed” for untried weaponry. Just after the Lebanon war in 1982, the Washington Post carried a long article arguing that the US Defence Department and the weapons manufacturing industries were now the most powerful pro-Israeli pressure group operating on Reagan’s administration. Reagan was under some alternative pressure to bring minor sanctions against Israel following the world outcry against the senseless loss of life in Lebanon. But the US military would have none of it. The Washington Post survey showed that the Pentagon had received detailed information from Israel on the performance of American-made weapons, some of which had never been used in combat by US forces.

It cited the use of the Hawkeye E2C electronic reconnaissance aircraft used during the early stages of the Lebanon war, and the Israeli raid in 1981 against the Iraqi nuclear reactor in which F15 and F16 war aircraft were used in military strikes for the first time.

In fact Israeli prime minister Begin actually boasted that Israelis were testing secret weapons made in Israel on behalf of the Americans. Such a weapon, he told an audience in America, had enabled Israeli jet aircraft to knock out 23 Russian-made Sam-6 and Sam-8 missile batteries in Syria without losing a single aircraft. [15]

Israel also assists America by itself arming some of the world’s most bloody dictatorships – dictatorships which even America has sometimes felt too embarrassed to equip herself. These include regimes known to harbour ex-Nazis in South America and, in the case of South Africa, a regime whose ruling Nationalist Party was openly pro-Nazi during the Second World War.

In 1976 South Africa’s premier, John Vorster, paid a week-long visit to Israel. Vorster had been interned as a Nazi during the Second World War. A decade earlier Israel had executed the notorious Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and Israel’s secret services were boasting their ability to capture further ex-Nazis. Now the Israeli government was publicly welcoming a former leading Nazi as an important guest.

Vorster had arrived to deepen links between the countries’ two defence industries. While in Israel he purchased a quantity of fighter-bombers. Two years earlier South Africa had bought a shipment of Gabriel surface-tosurface missiles from Israel. These are similar to the French Exocet missiles used by Argentina during the Falklands War. In 1978 the United Nations imposed a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa, which Israel has repeatedly evaded. By 1980 no less than 35 per cent of Israel’s arms exports were going to South Africa. As the head of South African military industry said in 1982, Israeli “technological assistance permits South Africa to evade the arms embargo imposed upon it because of its racial policies.” [16]

In 1979 the TV documentary programme World in Action carried a detailed account of a nuclear test explosion in the South Atlantic which claimed that the warhead used was an Israeli-South African developed nuclear shell. [17]

On America’s behalf, Israel also evaded the trade boycott of the illegal white racist regime in Rhodesia before its fall. The American paper, the Boston Globe, reported in May 1982: “American-made helicopters and spare parts went from Israel to Rhodesia despite a trade embargo during the bitter war against the guerrillas, the Commerce Department has disclosed.”

Israel’s relations with the cut-throat regimes of Central America make grim reading too. Shortly after the Lebanon invasion, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon visited Honduras, a stronghold in the US campaign of subversion against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Israeli radio reported that Israel had helped Honduras acquire what is regarded as the strongest air force in Central America and noted that “the Sharon trip raised the question of whether Israel might act as an American proxy in Honduras.” [18]

In fact Israel was already doing just that, as the government’s economic co-ordination minister, Ya’acov Meridor, confirmed when he said that Israel was ready to be Washington’s surrogate whenever political considerations prevented the US from providing military assistance. [19] The link with Honduras involved Israeli advisors giving on-the-spot training to Honducan pilots. The new Israeli-Honduras agreement involved sophisticated jet fighters, tanks, and Galil assault rifles (a specifically anti-guerrilla weapon). Sharon’s entourage during his visit included the head of the Israeli Air Force and the Director-General of the Defence Ministry. A Honduras government spokesman said that Sharon’s visit was more positive than an earlier one from President Reagan since Sharon “sold US arms” while “Reagan only uttered platitudes, explaining that Congress was preventing him doing more.” [20]

In neighbouring Guatemala an even more bloody dictator, General Rios Montt, actually boasted to an ABC television reporter that the coup which brought him to power had been so successful, “because many of our soldiers were trained by the Israelis.” [21] In the summer of 1982, as Sharon was slaughtering Palestinians in Lebanon, Montt was slaughtering 5,000 Indians in the Guatemalan countryside as part of a “counter-insurgency” campaign – aided and abetted with Israeli weaponry and Israeli-trained expertise. [22]

Israel has also given military aid to the military juntas of Pinochet in Chile and Galtieri in Argentina (before his downfall). The aid to Argentina is particularly shocking, not only because Argentina harbours ex-Nazis but because the Galtieri regime was itself notoriously anti-semitic. The Israeli journal Haolam Haze exposed this obscenity, commenting: “The Israeli Foreign Minister last week extended a warm handshake to the Generals in Buenos Aires who had murdered about 1,000 Jews in Argentina.” The journal also interviewed the Argentinian Jewish journalist Jacob Timerman, who told them: “I saw with my own eyes how Argentinian jailers tortured Jews in prison while the Israeli government requested the Jewish community there to remain silent.” [23]

Israel’s “periphery pact” with the Shah of Iran, cemented by the Americans in the 1950s, is also of great interest. Relations between the two countries have always been close. When the Shah was toppled, the Israeli ambassador in Iran revealed that the entire upper echelon of the Israeli leadership’ had visited the Shah over the years, including four former prime ministers – Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Itzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin – and former Chief of Defence Moshe Dayan. The Shah’s secret police SAVAK, notorious for their use of torture, arranged these visits. [24] The links between SAVAK and the Israeli secret service MOSSAD were very close. A former head of MOSSAD, Jacob Nimrodi, “the Israeli closest to the Shah” [25], spent time in Iran as an Israeli military attache. SAVAK and MOSSAD had co-operated since the 1950s.

According to one author, who based his information on discussions with the Shah, “virtually every general officer in the Shah’s army has visited Israel and hundreds of junior officers have undergone some aspects of Israeli training.” [26]

Finally Israel’s backing for the Christian Phalange in Lebanon must be mentioned. The Phalange were founded by Pierre Gemayel in the 1930s. It was a fanatically right-wing armed militia, self-consciously modelled on the fascists. (Phalange means fascist. Gemayel visited Berlin in 1936 and met Hitler.) Gemayel’s son Bashir rose to prominence in the Phalange in the 1970s and then in the wider Christian movement in Lebanon. Bashir Gemayel, also a fascist, came to dominate Christian forces in Lebanon by the simple expedient of murdering all his opponents.

Gemayel’s faction was enthusiastically, if secretly at first, welcomed in Haifa in 1976 by the then Israeli Labour government. [27] The contacts were cultivated and Israel began arming Gemayel. In August 1982, the month when hundreds of Palestinian refugees were massacred in the Lebanese camps at Sabra and Shatila, Bashir Gemayel was “elected” Lebanon’s president as Israeli guns and tanks stood by.




1. Cited in Chomsky, p.7 fn.

2. Cited in Chomsky, p.7 fn.

3. Chomsky, p.10.

4. Jerusalem Post, 19 April 1986.

5. Mideast Observer, February 1981.

6. From an interesting article by Yoran Pen, former advisor to Israeli premier Rabin and a specialist in civic-military relations inside Israel, published in the Israeli Labour Party journal Davar, cited in Chomsky, p.463.

7. Jerusalem Post, 19 April 1986.

8. Cited in Chomsky, p.19.

9. Chomsky, p.19.

10. Ha’aretz, 30 September 1951.

11. Chomsky, p.19.

12. Chomsky, p.19.

13. US News and World Report, 19 June 1967, cited in Our Roots are Still Alive (New York 1981) p.116.

14. Our Roots, p.103.

15. Washington Post, 6 August 1982.

16. Davar, 17 December 1982, cited in Chomsky, p.21 fn.

17. The information on Israeli arms supplies to South Africa is to be found in Middle East Magazine, May 1983.

18. Quoted in the New York Times, 6 December 1982, cited in Chomsky, p.24.

19. Middle East International, 23 December 1982.

20. Cited in Chomsky, p.24.

21. Middle East International, 23 December 1982.

22. The Economist, 13 November 1982, cited in Chomsky, p.110.

23. Interview with Haolem Haze, 22 December 1982, cited in Chomsky, p.110.

24. Cited in Chomsky, p.457 fn.

25. Cited in Chomsky, p.458.

26. The author was E.A. Bayne, quoted in Fred Halliday, Iran: Dictatorship and Development (Harmondsworth 1979) p.279.

27. Reported by Chaim Margalit in the Labour paper Hotam, who quotes Amos Eran, manager of Premier Rabin’s office, as his source. Cited in Chomsky, p.185.


Last updated on 4.8.2001