NEW DELHI: Israel has refused to stop supplying arms to the Myanmar army, which human rights groups say is involved in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims+, saying, "the matter is clearly diplomatic", reported online news portal Middle East Eye (MEE).
Not just that, Israeli arms companies like TAR Ideal Concepts have even trained Myanmar's special forces in Rakhine state where most of the violence against the Rohingya has taken place, added MEE.
The weapons Israel has sold Myanmar include more than a 100 tanks, and weapons and boats used to police its border, said human rights groups and Burmese officials.
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Notably, the US and the European Union (EU) have an arms embargo on Myanmar. The US cites the International Religious Freedom Act and uses the embargo on countries that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom".
The EU's embargo on Myanmar refers to the ban on sales of "equipment which might be used for internal repression".
In the latest bout of violence that began August 25, and that was triggered by an attack on Myanmar police posts, at least 400 Rohingya have been killed, and as many as 146,000 have made their way, starving and terrified, to Bangladesh, reported the Associated Press. Satellite images show dozens of Rohingya villages burned to the ground by the Myanmar army, agencies reported. On Tuesday, even the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed concern the violence could spiral into a "humanitarian catastrophe".
Last December, Israeli lawyers and human rights activists wrote to their country's defence ministry urging it to suspend a military shipment ordered by the Myanmar Army. They said Myanmar still commits human rights abuses against minority groups, reported The Irrawaddy, a website run by exiles from Myanmar in Thailand.
"It is surprising that the State of Israel, while struggling for continued sanctions against Iran, has no qualms about ignoring the US and EU sanctions against Burma for the most severe crimes being committed there," read the letter.
In January this year, following visits by Israeli officials to Myanmar and vice versa, to discuss arms deals, activists in Israel filed a petition urging their government to stop arms exports to Myanmar.
The petition is expected to be heard later this month, but in March, in a preliminary reply, the Israeli defence ministry said the court had no jurisdiction over the issue. The ministry said arms sales to Myanmar were "clearly diplomatic", reported MEE.
In fact, diplomatic and military ties between Israel and Myanmar flourished even during the military dictatorship in the latter, said Ofer Neiman, an Israeli human rights activist, to MEE.
In September 2015, two months before the country's first election in 25 years, one of the heads of the then Myanmar junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, who's now chief of the armed forces, visited Israel on a "shopping trip" of Israeli military manufacturers, reported Israel's Haaretz. His delegation met President Reuven Rivlin and other military officials including the army's chief of staff. Hlaing also visited military bases and defense contractors Elbit Systems and Elta Systems, added Haaretz
In June 2015, the head of Israel's defence export department Gen Michel Ben Baruch visited Burma and met with leaders of the Burma Army, reported The Irawaddy.
Israel's relationship to Myanmar is linked to Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, said Neiman, Neiman, the Israeli human rights activist, to MEE.