Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that Israeli military advisors are helping his government fight guerillas, the Bogota newsweekly Semana reports. According to Semana, “A group of former Israeli military officials is counseling the military’s top brass on intelligence issues.” The weekly said the Israelis were hired by the Colombian Defense Ministry to improve the army’s intelligence capabilities and the command-and-control structure.
Semana said Santos was put in touch with the Israelis last year by former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami, when the two statesmen met (ironically) at a meeting of the Toledo International Center for Peace in Spain. The contract between the Israeli advisors and Colombia’s Defense Ministry was signed in April 2007, and sources put it at $10 million.
The Israeli group—reportedly made up of three senior generals, a lower-ranking officer and three translators—is said to be highly esteemed by the Colombians. “They are like psychoanalysts; they ask us the material questions and help us see all the problems we weren’t aware of before,” Deputy Defense Minister Sergio Jaramillo told Semana. “They are the best in the world,” another high ranking officer stated.
The Israeli advisors are said to be operating out of the notorious Tolemaida military base at Nilo, Cundinamarca department, outside Bogota. Semana described the Israeli aides as “mercenaries,” but stressed that the Israeli government was aware of their actions. Santos denied claims from the FARC guerillas that Israeli commandos, along with US and British forces, are actually fighting in Colombia’s jungles and mountains.
In recent years, Israel has become Colombia’s top arms supplier, providing drones, light arms and ammunition, surveillance and communication systems, and even special bombs capable of destroying coca fields. “Israel’s methods of fighting terror have been duplicated in Colombia,” a senior defense official was quoted by the Israeli news service YNet. (YNet, Aug. 10; Semana, Aug. 4)