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Private security and 'the Israelites of Latin America'

Juan Manuel Santos, chief Israelite of Colombia (Photo: EPA)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera:

Much fuss has been made in recent years in neoconservative circles in the US and among Israeli foreign ministry officials, regarding the danger to global security posed by an alleged Islamist infiltration of Latin America.

A pet factoid wielded by self-appointed experts on the matter is that it is currently possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with only one stop in Damascus. Lest policymakers and the general public fail to respond with adequate alarm to such news, the severity of the threat is underscored via invented links between Muslims in Latin America and every potentially unfavourable regional trend, resulting in a spectre of Islamo-narco-socialist crime cartels menacing the southern border of the US.

In a WikiLeaks cable from the US embassy in Bogota dated December 1, 2009, a rather unexpected entity joined the usual lineup of Latin America-based threats. The cable discusses the manoeuvres in Colombia of the Israeli firm Global Comprehensive Security Transformation (Global CST), founded by Major General (Res) Israel Ziv – former head of the Operations Directorate of the Israeli military – and contracted to aid in the fight against both criminal organisations and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as well as to evaluate potential perils emanating from Ecuador and Venezuela:

“Over a three year period, Ziv worked his way into the confidence of former [Colombian] Defense Minister [Juan Manuel] Santos by promising a cheaper version of USG [US government] assistance without our strings attached. We and the GOC [government of Colombia] learned that Global CST had no Latin American experience and that its proposals seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in-country needs”.

It is not clear why the US government should express surprise at the apparent failure to address “in-country needs” when its own Latin American experience includes the multi-billion dollar Plan Colombia, inaugurated more than a decade ago ostensibly as a means of curbing drug production and trafficking. In 2009, I spoke with farmers in the southern department of Putumayo who outlined in-country effects of the plan, such as repeated airborne fumigation of their subsistence crops, livestock, water supplies and children.

A substantial portion of Plan Colombia funds went to US-based private security contractors. Today, 97 per cent of cocaine that reaches the US reportedly hails from said country.

As for the strings that are allegedly attached to official US assistance, Amnesty International has objected to the fact that “the State Department continues to certify military aid to Colombia, even after reviewing the country’s human rights record” – which happens to hold the distinction of being the worst in the hemisphere.

Global CST’s experience

Ziv’s contention regarding the international relevance of his background in the Israeli military – “We felt that our experience could contribute tremendously to the world security and the world peace [sic]” – is, meanwhile, challenged by the following passage from the Bogota cable:

“In February 2008, [Colombian National Police] sources reported 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 [FARC] through contacts in Ecuador and Argentina. The documents allegedly contained high value target (HVT) database information. Ziv denied this attempt and sent Killman back to Israel”.

Ziv’s denial becomes less compelling in light of the fact that Global CST has lent its services to both the armed forces of the nation of Georgia as well as to Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia. The firm’s peaceable aims are furthermore called into question by the arms and training it reportedly provided to the Guinean military junta responsible for massacring pro-democracy protesters in Conakry in 2009.

Present on the board of Global CST is former Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh, whose recent efforts on behalf of peace have included defending the mass slaughter of Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead because Hamas had failed to “bring… investors to Gaza”. The former minister did not explain how investors were expected to navigate an Israeli military blockade when smaller items such as pasta and pencils were not permitted passage.

Click here to read the rest of the piece at Al Jazeera.

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