Israel’s role during the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict as a willing supplier of arms, equipment and other materials to Argentina has been revealed in a book titled “Operation Israel: the rearming of Argentina during the dictatorship (1976/1983)” written by Hernan Dobry, with an advance published over the weekend in Buenos Aires daily La Nacion.
Because of international embargoes during the Falklands’ war, Argentina was prepared for any ally that could provide the desperately needed arms and other war supplies, be it Libya, Venezuela, Peru or Ecuador, but to the military Junta surprise the most pro-active supplier and even advisor turned out to be Israel, under then Primer Minister Menajem Begin.
Argentina was loosing the war as the British Task Force increased pressure and bombings and more urgently it was running out of options to replace lost equipment in combat. All possible countries and arms dealers were contacted and a first line supplier, when the conflict with Chile in 1978 over the Beagle channel, resurfaced: Israel.
The Argentine Air Force contacted Isrex (Israeli provider and consultant for defence and security products and systems) representative in Buenos Aires who was willing to help, although previous authorization from Tel Aviv. Abraham Perelman contacted Gad Hitron and Aaron Dovrat, top officials of the industry (both Argentines) who then requested an interview with Israeli PM Menajem Begin.
To their surprise when they begun explaining that the Islas Malvinas were Argentine and that the English were occupying them, PM Begin interrupted: “you’ve come to talk badly about the British. Is this going to be used to kill the English? Kadima (go ahead). Dov from up there is going to be happy with the decision. Obviously, it must be all done perfectly” recalls Israel Lotersztain, salesman from Isrex Argentina.
Britain had the administration of Palestine following the First World War until the partition voted by the United Nations which opened the way for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. At the time different Jewish armed groups were attacking and eroding London’s grip over Palestine to ensure the birth of the state of Israel. Begin was head of one of the group’s Irgun but his close friend Dov Gruner was captured and hanged by the British 19 April 1947.
“He (Begin) hated the English above all; all had forgotten the British occuaption, but not him” according to Lotersztain. Jaime Weinstein agrees and adds that Begin “had deep hatred and resentment towards the British from the time of Israel’s independence. He did all that was possible to help Argentina, selling her weapons during the Malvinas conflict”.
The next step was to find a country that would triangle the supply operations, since Israel had (has) very close relations with Britain (trade and the influential Jewish community in the UK) and therefore could not appear openly supporting Argentina.
Peruvian president Fernando Belaunde Terry and his Prime Minister Manuel Ulloa became crucial. The Peruvian Air Force signed purchase orders in blank and destination certificates so that the triangulation operation could go ahead. The order from Lima was “all the help and support possible for Argentina”. (With border disputes pending for over a century, Peru and Chile have been uncomfortable neighbours and therefore Lima has always supported its enemy, enemy: Argentina)
Negotiations were done through the Air Force attaché in Lima Commodore Andres Dubós and the head of the Argentine Air Force and member of the Junta Brigadier General Basilio Lami Doze. With all the paper work straightened out, Luis Guterson from Isrex Argentina flew to Tel Aviv to begin operation Israel.
Supplies begun air lifted to Callao, Peru and from there to Buenos Aires by Aerolineas Argentinas. However a slight problem emerged when no Peruvian bank wanted to be involved in the financing so Israel ended financing most of the purchases, all of which were effectively paid on the end of the war, according to the book.
At first Peruvian Air Force transports were involved but for the heavier equipment larger planes were needed and with the blessing of Mossad (Israel’ secret service) a Belgian company located in Luxembourg turned up.
But the British were alert and they kept track of aircraft landing in Peru and even photographed transhipments, evidence of the triangulation operation.
“A newspaper once published a picture showing the loading to an Aerolineas Argentinas and the British ambassador in Israel took the photo to Begin and hell broke out. They were aware of the whole operation to the extent that sometimes when we discussed whether some supplies had arrived we would say, ‘let’s ask the English’” recalls Lotersztain.
The five flights Tel Aviv-Lima-Buenos Aires reached with all sort of equipments: gas masks, radar alert systems to detect incoming missiles, duvet jackets, spares and even Shafir air to air missiles, among others.
However the most important were the additional fuel tanks for the fighter bombers with which to attack the British fleet, since without them the Argentine pilots could not reach Malvinas and return to the continent. The big surprise was when Israel sent the 1.500 litres fuel tanks which offered a greater autonomy than the normal 1.300 litres.
This according to the Hernan Dobry forced the Task Force to move further east from the Falklands to avoid attacks.
Argentina finally purchased 40 of the fuel tanks that arrived in San Julian, Santa Cruz in two Aerolineas Argentinas Boeing 707s from Lima. The first on 23 May 1982 and a few days later the second batch when the conflict was almost over.
However the most audacious deal with Israel was that involving several French built Mirage IIIC just a few days before the Argentine surrender. Although they had already been offered to Argentina in 1980, and were rejected by Argentine pilots because they were “old and deteriorated”, the loss of at least 35 combat aircraft in the Falklands made it imperative to strengthen the Air Force.
Junta member Brigadier General Lami Dozo feared that following the war, Chile taking advantage of a debilitated Argentina would force its hand in the Beagle Channel islands’ dispute.
“When we started to count our losses we begun looking to see where we could find replacements”, admitted Lami Dozo. Over thirty international arms dealers turned up, but after considering all proposals, it was decided Israel was the best.
Air Force members who had checked the Mirage IIIB/C two years before were called in and Brigadier Mayor Ubaldo Diaz was commissioned with the task of negotiating with Isrex Argentina for 23 Mirages. It was the beginning of June and war was almost over.
Again triangulation was needed and again the Peruvians complied with the purchase orders and final destination certificates, all signed in blank for the purchase of the 23 aircraft, revealed Lotersztein.
The following step was a bank since Isrex demanded an advance payment and a letter of credit for Israel to liberate the 23 aircraft. Since Argentina could not figure because the aircraft were allegedly for the Peruvian Air Force, an attempt was made with Peruvian or Panamanian banks, but to no avail.
Isrex finally came up with Credit Suisse account and a cover up Swiss company used by the Israel Aeronautic Industry which was then used to transfer the money. Although the Argentine brigadiers were not convinced, there were few alternatives and the proposal was accepted and the money sent.
But with all the paper work demanded, the aircraft were only ready to fly to Buenos Aires at the end of 1982, when the war was over. Nevertheless they were fitted with the Peruvian Air Force colours to avoid further problems with the British. Officially purchased by the Peruvians with final destination Lima, but the delivery would be in Argentina.
The book also underlines the role played by Peru in support of Argentina, in spite of having declared itself neutral. Peruvians sent a C-130 full of ordnance, rockets, missiles and offered to try and obtain a pending delivery of the deadly Exocets from France.
But British intelligence was alert and pressure was most effective, and the attempt failed.
This however did not impede Peru from offering Argentina ten Mirage VP fighter-bombers for which 50 million US dollars were paid. “A team from Argentina came over believing we were selling them junk, but they checked the aircraft and admitted they were operational and better looked after than their own. We delivered them with all the gear, including AF-30 air-land guided missiles and some other air to air stuff”, said a Brigadier from the Peruvian Air Force.
Furthermore ten pilots from squadrons 611 and 612 flew them to Argentina at the end of May 1982 flying across Bolivia with a communications blackout so the “Chileans couldn’t pick us out”.
The transfer was done in the northern province of Salta and “the Peruvian pilots wanted to fly on and join as volunteers in the Malvinas war. I told them no. They then asked me where to deliver them and I told them at the closest possible airport in the Argentine border”, confesses former Brigadier General Lami Dozo head of the Argentine Air Force at the time and member of the military Junta next to General Galtieri and Admiral Anaya.