WikiLeaks cables expose Israeli military intrigues in Latin America

Diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks reveal that the security company Global CST—led by Maj. Gen. Israel Ziv, the former head of operations for the Israeli military—made such inroads into Latin America that US diplomats saw it as a security threat and moved to thwart the company's expansion. The diplomats' efforts were given an inadvertent boost when an interpreter for the Israeli firm was evidently caught passing on classified Colombian Defense Ministry documents to leftist guerrillas, according to one cable cited by McClatchy Newspapers.

Colombia: Israeli spooks play both sides?
In 2006, Colombia's government became the first in Latin America to sign a contract with Global CST—the same year its founder Ziv retired as head of the Israel Defense Forces operations directorate. Ziv "was a personal acquaintance of then-Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos," one cable said. Santos is now Colombia's president.

Ziv's firm pledged "a strategic assessment" that would devise a plan to defeat "internal terrorist and criminal organizations by 2010," said one 2009 cable. The exercise was named "Strategic Leap." "Over a three-year period, Ziv worked his way into the confidence of former Defense Minister Santos by promising a cheaper version of USG [US government] assistance without our strings attached," the cable stated. Retired and active duty Israeli officers "with special operations and military intelligence backgrounds" went to Colombia for the operation, another cable said. By 2007, 38% of Colombia's foreign defense purchases were going to Israel, it added.

But in a meeting in late 2009 with the then-US Ambassador William Brownfield, Colombia's National Police chief Oscar Naranjo complained that the operation had turned out to be a "disaster," a cable said. The same cable reported that then-Defense Minister Gabriel Silva overruled a planned Colombian army purchase of Israeli-made Hermes-450 unmanned aerial vehicles—in part because of the nation's "mixed" experience with Global CST. Silva is now Colombia's ambassador to the US. His office didn't respond to several written and telephone messages for comment from McClatchy Newspapers.

Colombian National Police sources told a US diplomat in February 2008 "that a Global CST interpreter, Argentine-born Israeli national Shai Killman, had made copies of classified Colombian Defense Ministry documents in an unsuccessful attempt to sell them to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) through contacts in Ecuador and Argentina," one cable said. The pilfered documents apparently contained intelligence about top drug lords the Colombian government was targeting. "Ziv denied this attempt and sent Killman back to Israel," the cable said. Last month, Killman told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz he was being "slandered" and that no such incident ever took place.

The cable also stated that Ziv's proposals for Colombia "seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in-country needs." It added that the Colombian government realized that "their deals are not as good as advertised."

Peru: Mossad versus the Maoists?
Before things went sour for Global CST in Colombia, Ziv had arranged a similar deal withPeru. Ziv apparently boasted to Peruvian authorities that Global CST had played an advisory role in a spectacular jungle raid on a FARC camp in Colombia in 2008 that freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US military contractors and 11 Colombian police and soldiers. Colombia denies that Global CST played a role in the raid.

Nonetheless, the Israeli firm signed a one-year contract for $9 million to help Peru defeat the Maoist Sendero Luminoso insurgency "once and for all" in that nation's remote Apurímac and Ene River Valley region, or VRAE, according to another US cable. (The VRAE has still not been pacified, and the Peruvian air force just purchased three Russian MI-171 helicopter gunships for counter-insurgency operations there.)

Panama: persecution of the press
When Global CST next approached Panama's government, the US embassy was apparently alarmed. In early 2010, an embassy cable to Washington said Panama had already paid Global CST for a security study—and that the nation's intelligence chief, Olmedo Alfaro, was threatening to rely more heavily on the Israelis out of anger that US officials would not tap the phones of President Ricardo Martinelli's political enemies.

"Alfaro is increasingly open about his agenda to replace U.S. law enforcement and security support with Israelis and others," the cable reads, stating that the move "bodes ill" for fighting drug trafficking in Panama. US officials apparently told the Panamanians that they would limit security cooperation and intelligence sharing if private consultants from a third nation were involved. In a meeting with then-US Ambassador a Barbara Stephenson, Panama's Vice President Juan Carlos Varela said that his government "would not let Israeli influence damage the U.S.-Panama relationship," a cable said. President Martinelli "was similarly taken aback, and emphasized that he did not want to endanger relations with the USG, saying 'We don't want to change friends,' " the cable said.

Other cables have made a stink within Panama, revealing a "ring zero" within the Martinelli administration—naming which cabinet members were part of the decision-making circle, and which were iced. Another named Tourism Authority administrator Solomon Shamah as linked to drug traffickers. Since these revelations were reported in Panama's daily La Prensa, the Martinelli government has unleashed a "hate campaign" against the newspaper, according to the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders. A series of videos posted to YouTube (presumably by Martinelli agents or supporters) name La Prensa journalists who reported on the WikiLeaks revelations, portraying them as "manipulators of information" and operatives of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the main opposition to Martinelli's ruling Democratic Change party.

"These methods suggest an act of crass vengeance by those in power against the media," said Reporters Without Borders. The organization called for Panama's justice system to investigate "the origin of the coarse videos and find out if they are motivated politically." (Newsroom Panama, Andina via TerraPeru, May 11; Inside Costa Rica, May 10; McClatchy Newspapers via Miami Herald, May 9; Haaretz, April 13)

See our last posts on Israel, Israel in Latin America, and the WikiLeaks scandals.

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