Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya Muslim Minority (thousands were killed, 1.1 million have fled) has earned the country widespread condemnation and different arms embargos since the 1990s. Despite that, Israel has been accused of continuing to sell military equipment to the Myanmar Military even as it faced accusations of war crimes against the Rohingya. Israeli arms exports between 2000-2017 included towed guns, naval guns, armed vehicles, and patrol vessels. In addition, training of soldiers by Israel, intelligence cooperation and cybersecurity systems were reportedly provided to Myanmar.
Israel – Myanmar Relations
Israel and Myanmar established diplomatic ties in 1953. Israel has an embassy in Yangon and Myanmar has an embassy in Tel Aviv.
Israel and Myanmar have undertaken many international cooperation ventures in the fields of economy, agriculture, health and education. Thousands of students from Myanmar have received training in Israel and scholarships for studies in Israel. Bilateral agreements were signed in fields of trade and economy, culture and sports, tourism and education.Myanmar and Israel sign an agreement to cement bilateral tradeMyanmar Israel Bilateral Relation
Myanmar imports from Israel were worth $1.23m during 2021 with the main goods being fertilizers, pharmaceutical products, machinery and electronic equipment.Myanmar Imports from Israel
Israel always maintained an embassy in Myanmar and was one of the few countries to offer direct aid to the pariah state after Cyclone Nargis left 150,000 dead in 2008.Letter from Myanmar Israel only reacted to allegations of Israeli arms being involved in crimes against the Rohingya in 2017, following domestic and international uproar and a legal challenge that reached its High Court. Israel provided no clarification on military exports to and cooperation with Myanmar and Israeli officials refuse to utilize the term “Rohingya” (Myanmar rejects the term and does not recognize them as citizens).Israel maintains warm ties with Myanmar, downplaying a human rights controversy
Military relations started with the beginning of diplomatic ties. Israel exported 29 Spitfire fighter aircrafts that were modernized by Israel in 1954.SIPRI- ARMS FLOWS TO SOUTH EAST ASIA There have been reports that trace intelligence cooperation back to the 1950s, and training and arms sales from the 1990s onwards, in spite of occasional denials by Israeli authorities.Why Are Old Myanmar-Israel Military Links Under New Scrutiny? Despite an arms embargo by the US and Europe that was declared in the 1990s Israel exported a large number of arms to Myanmar and its Military Junta in the 1990s and 2000s. Israeli arms exports between 2000-2017 included towed guns, naval guns, armed vehicles and patrol vessels.SIPRI- ARMS FLOWS TO SOUTH EAST ASIA
Both sides formally inked a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation in the defense sector in 2015, which covered areas such as exchanges and visits, military training, information sharing, military education, and technology acquisition.Why Are Old Myanmar-Israel Military Links Under New Scrutiny?
In 2015, the Head of Myanmar’s Military Junta, Min Aung Hlaing, visited Israel and met Israeli officials, including the chief of staff, the minister of defense and the president. He visited military and air force bases. In 2016 the director of the International Defense Cooperation Directorate (SIBAT) visited Myanmar and met Hlaing.SIBAT- International Defense Cooperation Investigations by several human rights watchdogs found more than 100 tanks, as well as boats and light weapons, have been sold to Myanmar by Israeli arms companies between 2000-2017.Israel accused of selling military equipment to Burma during ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims
In a huge deal Myanmar purchased 6 Super Dvora Mk-3 vessels from Israeli Aerospace Industries in 2015. The total value of the arms deal is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars. The remote weapons station is made by Elbit Systems. The ships were delivered in 2017.Israel Sold Advanced Weapons to Myanmar During anti-Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing Campaign
Israel officially stopped selling advanced weaponry to Myanmar’s military in 2017 following domestic and international uproar and a legal challenge that reached its High Court. It is unclear if indeed Israel firms supplied Myanmar’s military between 2017-2020. In December 2017, Myanmar’s ambassador to Israel, U Maung Maung Lynn, said that Israel was still selling weapons to his country.Israel reprimands Myanmar ambassador over arms sale comment Israel promptly reprimanded and “rebuked” the ambassador, who soon apologized and retracted his statement.Israel maintains warm ties with Myanmar, downplaying a human rights controversy
Israel has been accused of continuing to sell military equipment to the Myanmar Military even as it faced accusations of war crimes against minority Rohingya Muslims.Israel accused of selling military equipment to Burma during ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims.Israel accused of selling military equipment to Burma during ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims In 2019 The UN charged in an official report that Israel was among seven countries that sold arms to Myanmar’s military at a time when it should have known that the weapons “would be used in the commission of serious crimes under international law.”UN: Israel sold arms to known human rights abusers in MyanmarReport of Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (27 August 2018) In the UN report, the mission said that as of 2016, 14 foreign companies, including two from Israel, had provided arms and related equipment to the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s Army) when its actions against the Rohingya were already well publicized.UN: Israel sold arms to known human rights abusers in Myanmar
One company, TAR Ideal Concept (Avnon Group) posted pictures in August 2016 of its staff teaching combat tactics to Myanmar’s special forces in northern Rakhine state, where much of the violence is taking place.Israel accused of selling military equipment to Burma during ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims On the website of TAR Ideal Concepts, that specializes in providing military training and equipment, pictures showed training with Israeli-made Corner Shot rifles, along with the statement that Myanmar had begun operational use of the weapons.As Violence Intensifies, Israel Continues to Arm Myanmar’s Military Junta
In 2019 official representatives of the Myanmar military were among those touring the Israel Defense and Homeland Security Expo (ISDEF) in Tel Aviv.Israel Denies Arming Myanmar. But Its Officials Are Still Visiting a Tel Aviv Arms Expo
In 2019 media reported that the military-backed government of Myanmar used Israeli technology to gather evidence that led to the imprisonment of two Reuter journalists. A former Myanmar military official described the country as a “major customer” of Cellebrite. Myanmar reportedly used Cellebrite’s Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) to retrieve documents from journalists’ phones. Between 2017-2018, the Myanmar government used UFED to prosecute two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. The journalists were accused of violating state secrecy laws for their Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on atrocities against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. While Cellebrite claims that it stopped selling its products in Myanmar in late 2018, Freedom House and human rights lawyer Khin Maung Zaw claim that the government is still deploying the technology.Security-tech companies once flocked to Myanmar. One firm’s tools were used against two journalists.
Myanmar is also a customer of another Israeli company, named Ability, a former NSO Group partner. Ability sells something called the Unlimited Interception System (ULIN), which allows Ability to intercept networks to spy on target’s smartphones.Inside the shadowy world of spyware makers that target activists and dissidents Myanmar purchased different systems from Ability, that cost between $1 and $5 million.Behind The Fall Of Ability Inc — The Israeli Hackers Who Can Tap Your Cell For $20M
In 2020 the Israeli cyber security company Cybint announced the development of Cybint Certified Centers in Myanmar as part of their cyber security training programs throughout the Asia-Pacific region.Cybint expands in Asia with the announcement of their First Certified Training Partner in India – Astraea Solutions
In June 2020 international media reported that the Arakan Army seized an Israeli-made military-grade Skylark I-LEX drone, belonging to Myanmar’s military.Arakan Army Seizes Three Soldiers’ Sons in Western MyanmarThree sons of soldiers from Myanmar Army, came to collect the UAS drone were Captured by Arakan Army
In March 2021 the New York Times reported that drones made by Elbit, cyber spyware made by Cellebrite and armored vehicles made by Gaia Automotive Industries were used during the military coup in February 2021.Myanmar’s Military Deploys Digital Arsenal of Repression in Crackdown
In January 2023 an NGO from Myanmar revealed that the Israeli company Cognyte (former Verint Systems), won a tender to provide an advanced cyber-intelligence system to be installed at the heart of the country’s telecommunications network – in order to monitor and eavesdrop on users. The deal was made in December 2020.Myanmar Acquired Spyware From Israeli Cyber-intelligence Firm Cognyte, New Docs Reveal
Usage of Israeli Arms
M-67 Towed gun – Used by Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw)
EE-9 Cascavel armoured cars – Used by Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw)
Super Dvora Mk-3 – Used by the Myanmar Navy.
UFED (Cellebrite) – Myanmar reportedly used Israeli based Cellebrite’s products to breach journalists’ mobile phones, leading to their imprisonment. They were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating state secrecy laws, the Washington Post reported. They had been reporting on alleged government genocide against the minority Rohingya Muslim community.Israeli tech used to imprison journalists in Myanmar — report
Skylark I-LEX – in use by Myanmar’s military.Three sons of soldiers from Myanmar Army, came to collect the UAS drone were Captured by Arakan Army
Human Rights Violations
Crimes against Rohingya People
The Rohingya are an ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar. In 2016, there were about 1.1 million Rohingya in the Southeast Asian country. They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.Who are the Rohingya?Instability in Myanmar | Global Conflict Tracker
In August 2017 in response to attacks by a group of Rohingya militants, the Myanmar military launched a brutal crackdown on Rohingya villages, causing over seven hundred thousand people to flee across the border with Bangladesh.Who are the Rohingya?Instability in Myanmar | Global Conflict Tracker At least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the month after the violence broke out, according to medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).MSF surveys estimate that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed during the attacks in Myanmar
Amnesty International says the Myanmar military also raped and abused Rohingya women and girls. Crimes against humanity that were documented by Amnesty International: murder, deportation and forcible displacement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, persecution, and other inhumane acts such as denying food and other life-saving provisions.Myanmar: Crimes against humanity terrorize and drive Rohingya out
At least 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine state after August 2017, according to analysis of satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch.Burma: New Satellite Images Confirm Mass Destruction
The military’s brutal campaign of murder, rape and other abuses forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.Myanmar (Burma) HRW In 2019, the United Nations-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar warned that the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar’s Rakhine state faced a greater than ever threat of genocide because of the government’s attempts to “erase their identity and remove them from the country.”Genocide threat for Myanmar’s Rohingya greater than ever, investigators warn Human Rights Council UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar calls on UN Member States to remain vigilant in the face of the continued threat of genocide
Refugees who arrived in Bangladesh in 2018 reported continuing abuses by Myanmar security forces, including killings, arson, enforced disappearances, extortion, severe restrictions on movement, and lack of food and health care. They also reported sexual violence and abductions of women and girls in villages and at checkpoints along the route to Bangladesh. Returnees to Myanmar faced arrest and torture by the authorities. Over 4,500 Rohingya remained stuck in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border “no-man’s land,” subject to harassment by Myanmar officials and regular threats via loudspeaker to induce them to cross into Bangladesh.Myanmar: Events of 2018
The Military Coup of 2021
Between February 1st 2021 and January 18th 2022, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) recorded 8677 people arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to anti-coup activities, a further 1966 who have been charged but are currently evading arrest, and 1483 civilians killed by the military junta. Resistance to the junta is no longer always peaceful and these deaths do not include those of fighters killed in clashes between the military, their allied militias, ‘People’s Defence Forces’ and Ethnic Armed Groups – nor those military-aligned civilians killed by pro-democracy opposition groups. Neither do these numbers include the thousands of deaths caused by the junta’s woefully inadequate response to Covid-19, nor capture the extent of hardship faced by ordinary people in an already poor country where the economy has largely collapsed.Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)
Armed conflicts between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups intensified over the course of 2018 in Kachin, Shan, and Karen States, stoked by large-scale development projects and disputes over natural resources. Civilians were endangered by the military’s indiscriminate attacks, forced displacement, and aid blockages. An UN fact-finding mission determined that the military’s actions in Shan and Kachin States since 2011 amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2018 and 2019 the Myanmar military employed aerial bombing and heavy artillery shelling on townships in Kachin state, killing at least 10 civilians in 2018 and 17 in 2019 and forcing thousands to flee. In 2019 fighting has fostered conflict-related sexual violence, with internally displaced women and girls especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.Myanmar: Events of 2018Myanmar: Events of 2019
In 2018 the government increased its use of overly broad and vaguely worded laws to arrest and imprison individuals for peaceful expression deemed critical of the government or military. Prosecutions for criminal defamation increased in 2018, particularly under section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act, with most complainant’s state, military, or political party officials; over 60 percent of defendants were journalists, activists, or others addressing matters of public interest. In 2019 more than 250 people faced lawsuits under various rights-restricting laws.Status of Freedom of Expression in Myanmar Myanmar: Events of 2019