Israel’s Hand in Guatemala’s Genocide

Exclusive: The Guatemalan genocide of the 1980s does not just implicate President Ronald Reagan and his senior aides but the Israeli government which secretly supplied helicopters, guns and computers that were used to hunt down and exterminate Ixil Indians and other perceived enemies of the state, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

At the height of Guatemala’s mass slaughters in the 1980s, including genocide against the Ixil Indians, the Reagan administration worked with Israeli officials to provide helicopters that the Guatemalan army used to hunt down fleeing villagers, according to documentary and eyewitness evidence.

During testimony at the recent genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, one surprise was how often massacre survivors cited the Army’s use of helicopters in the scorched-earth offensives.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. (Photo credit: Jim Wallace of the Smithsonian Institution)

Journalist Allan Nairn, who covered the war in Guatemala and attended the Rios Montt trial, said in an interview, “one interesting thing that came out in the trial, as witness after witness testified, was a very substantial number of them talked about fleeing into the mountains and being bombed, attacked and machine gunned from U.S. planes and helicopters.

“At the time this was going on, I was aware this was happening in some cases, but from the testimony of the witnesses, it sounded like these attacks from U.S. planes and helicopters were more frequent than we realized at the time. That’s an example of how we don’t know the whole story yet how extensive the U.S. complicity was in these crimes.”

Part of the mystery was where did Guatemala’s UH-1H “Huey” helicopters come from, since the U.S. Congress continued to resist military sales to Guatemala because of its wretched human rights record. The answer appears to be that some helicopters were arranged secretly by President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff through Israeli intelligence networks.

Rios Montt began pressing the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters in June 1983, as his military campaign was ramping up. Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment.

On Aug. 1, 1983, NSC aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala, according to a document that I discovered at Reagan’s presidential library.

“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”

By then, McFarlane had a long and intimate relationship with Israeli intelligence involving various backdoor deals. [For more on McFarlane’s Israeli channels, see’s “How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast.”]

Israeli Channel

McFarlane’s approach to Israel for the helicopters was successful, according to former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe, who described some of the history behind Israel’s activities in Guatemala in his 1992 memoir, Profits of War.

Ben-Menashe traced the Israeli arms sales to Guatemala back to a private network established in the 1970s by Gen. Ariel Sharon during a gap when he was out of the government. Sharon’s key representative in Guatemala was a businessman named Pesach Ben-Or, and through that channel, Israel supplied military gear to Guatemala’s security services in the 1980s, Ben-Menashe wrote.

In an interview on Thursday, Ben-Menashe said the Israelis supplied a total of six helicopters to the Guatemalans along with computers and software to keep track of alleged subversives who could then be identified and executed. Ben-Menashe said he learned of the mass slaughters during his travels to Guatemala and reported back to his Israeli superiors about the atrocities involving the equipment that they had authorized. The response, he said, was concern but inaction.

“They weren’t for killing these people, not at all,” Ben-Menashe said. “But they thought their interest was to help the Reagan people. If the Reagan people wanted it [the equipment sent to Guatemala], they would do it. [They thought,] ‘this is bad, but is it any of our business? Our American friends are asking for our help, so we should help them.’”

After our phone interview had ended, Ben-Menashe called me back to stress that the Israelis were unaware of the genocidal nature of the Guatemalan military campaigns against the Ixil Indians, although the Israelis did recognize that they were assisting in mass murders of dark-skinned Guatemalans.

“As we saw it, they [Guatemalan military authorities] were targeting all non-white villagers who were sitting on fertile lands that the white Guatemalans wanted,” he said, adding that when he reported this information to his superiors, “the Israelis rolled their eyes [in dismay] but said, ‘this is what our friends in the Reagan administration want.’” [For more on Ben-Menashe’s work for Israeli intelligence, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Besides the helicopters for hunting down villagers who fled into the jungles, the computer equipment and the sophisticated software made the Guatemalan killing machine vastly more efficient in the towns and cities. A former U.S. Green Beret operating in Guatemala once told me that he witnessed Guatemalan security forces stopping buses and inputting identification numbers of the passengers into a computer to select those who would be dragged off to the side of the road and summarily shot.

Death Lists

From first-hand reporting in Guatemala, journalist Nairn also observed the security advantages gained from detailed death lists. Nairn said soldiers under Gen. Otto Perez Molina, the current president, “described how they would go into town armed with death lists provided them by G2 military intelligence, death lists of people who were suspected of being collaborators of the guerrillas or critics of the army.

“They told how they would strangle people with lassos, slit women open with machetes, shoot people in the head in front of the neighbors, use U.S. planes, helicopters and 50 gram bombs to attack people if they fled into the hills.”

Nairn said, “The U.S. had also arranged for Israel to step in and become the principal supplier of hardware to the Guatemalan army, in particular assault rifles, the Galil automatic rifle. This was because the administration was running into problems with Congress, which wouldn’t go along with a lot of their plans to aid the Guatemalan military, so they did an end run by using the government of Israel.”

Though the focus of the case against Rios Montt has been the genocide inflicted on Ixil villages in the northern highlands where some 626 villages were eradicated by the Guatemalan military those massacres were only part of the estimated 200,000 killings perpetrated by right-wing Guatemalan regimes since a CIA-sponsored coup ousted an elected government in 1954.

The bloodbath was at its worst in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan’s presidency as he encouraged the anti-leftist slaughters that claimed the lives of some 100,000 Guatemalans. Reagan expanded his support for the Guatemalan security forces even though the CIA was keeping his administration informed of the systematic killings underway.

Another document that I discovered in the archives of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, revealed that Reagan and his national security team in 1981 agreed to supply military aid to Guatemala’s dictators so they could pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but people associated with their “civilian support mechanisms.” [See’s “Ronald Reagan: Accessory to Genocide.”]

As for Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala for 17 especially bloody months in 1982-83, the 86-year-old ex-general was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by a criminal court on May 10 and was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

But that conviction was overturned on Monday on a 3-2 vote by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court which is still dominated by allies of the military and the oligarchy. As for the Reagan administration officials and the Israelis who aided and abetted Rios Montt and his fellow generals, there is no indication that any accountability will be exacted.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

18 comments for “Israel’s Hand in Guatemala’s Genocide

  1. S. Kemp
    June 3, 2013 at 13:09

    The current extreme right propaganda dedicated to denying the genocide in Guatemala can be seen here

    The final page is dedicated to Israel in acknowledgement of its support. An interesting backgrounder.

  2. Otto Schiff
    May 29, 2013 at 17:13

    THE PEOPLE have elected Sharon and Reagan.

  3. Otto Schiff
    May 29, 2013 at 14:20

    The point I was trying to make was that the people of America and the
    people of Israel are not and have not armed Guatemala.
    The right wing leaders have.

  4. ORAXX
    May 27, 2013 at 09:43

    The more I read of Reagan, the more convinced I become that his only role in his own administration was to get in front of the cameras and play a president on television.

  5. Morton Kurzweil
    May 25, 2013 at 18:21

    The tribal delusions of religious dogma have not been the identity of Jews for more than 1600 years. The Jews have questioned their relationship with a God of Wrath while the rest of the world continues to believe that one god is better that another and one belief leaves others inferior.
    There is a Jewish proverb that describes this :
    “If God lived on Earth, people would break his windows.”

  6. exomike
    May 25, 2013 at 16:41

    Spam free word press just ate an hours worth of work with the same Required fields. It’s gone. Your loss.

  7. exomike
    May 25, 2013 at 16:39


  8. John
    May 23, 2013 at 23:43

    An excellent article. One should try and find a copy of “The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why”, by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi copyright 1987. Money not ethics seems to be what makes the world go round, as what
    Israel does other powers have done in the past. The indigenous people of Africa, Latin America, North Anerica, Australia, Palestine and elsewhere seem to suffer much the same fate. We may think the world is getting better but
    arrogant beliefs and attitudes don’t seem to have changed over the hundreds of years. One can only hope that the message in most religions is realized. That is we are all basically the same and to show respect for others as we assimilate in a smaller and smaller world. From the religious angle, I disavow the Old Testament which I see as a nationalistic diatribe by an ignorant brutal people who didn’t know the world was round or what caused epileptic seizures and the like. God told them not to kill but it was okay to kill every man woman and child for a piece of land. What tripe but some buy into it. The tale repeats over and over in so many different ways. And the UN seems unable to do it’s job and unite us all.

    • andreas w. mytze
      May 30, 2013 at 06:14

      John, Beit-Hallahmi’s book is available at AMAZON! And possibly in various libraries…
      Equally important: Jane Hunter, Israeli Foreign Policy: South Africa and Central America (1996 and earlier editions) – with an interesting chapter: Vanunu and Hasenfus.

  9. F. G. Sanford
    May 23, 2013 at 17:57

    So…the Israelis provided computers and software to keep track of alleged subversives who could then be identified and executed…

    Hmm. I wonder why that rings a bell…

    “But Jews could not hide from millions of punch cards thudding through Hollerith machines, comparing names across generations, address changes across regions, family trees and personal data across unending registries. It did not matter that the required forms or questionnaires [from the 1933 and perhaps prior census records] were filled in by leaking pens and barely sharpened pencils, only that they were later tabulated and sorted by IBM’s precision technology.” Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation. Second paperback edition. Washington, DC: Dialog Press, 2009; p. 107.

  10. Fred Mrozek
    May 23, 2013 at 16:03

    ““As we saw it, they [Guatemalan military authorities] were targeting all non-white villagers who were sitting on fertile lands that the white Guatemalans wanted,” he said, adding that when he reported this information to his superiors, “the Israelis rolled their eyes [in dismay] but said, ‘this is what our friends in the Reagan administration want.’” God forgive us for this event and for the parallel Palestinian land grab.

    • Brad Whipple
      May 24, 2013 at 14:06

      Fred-Israel must have learned that lesson well for this is what they so blatantly practice with killing off or driving off the Palestinians from desirable and fertile lands to be used for Israeli settlements. Score another learned lesson from other right wing dictatorial murderers. IMHO

  11. Omahkohkiaaiipooyii
    May 23, 2013 at 15:58

    This is not about Judaism it is about Zionism which is to Judaism what Nazism is to Christianity or any other faith including Judaism.

  12. Jo Wilkie
    May 23, 2013 at 15:53

    THis article is not about jews it is about corrupt politicians and officials facilitating and making money out of genocide. Your sensitivity is misplaced.

  13. benfivel
    May 23, 2013 at 15:45

    Don’t forget the black plague, aids, and all those babies needed to make matsoh. If it is bad jews did it.

    • Brad Whipple
      May 24, 2013 at 13:50

      BEN- yours is a knee-jerk answer, proving that you did not read the article but answer anything which mentions Israel, as anti-jewish. Get a life, educate yourself or just don’t post under serious discussions. You damage your cause more.

  14. Otto Schiff
    May 23, 2013 at 15:17

    I think for the Israelies to support Reagens homicides is abominable.
    However the culprits are no doubt some government officials.
    You blame Reagan and not America for these crimes. I submit in the
    sense of fair reporting you should put the blame on the responsible parties
    rather than the country.

    • Brad Whipple
      May 24, 2013 at 13:59

      Otto- not for the first time, someone in defense of Israel throws a magic cloak over King Ronald Reagan, to protect his reputation from the TRUTH. It was Israel which supplied arms to IRAN (imagine that-talk about “trading with the enemy”) so that the American hostages would be held in Teheran until Reagan was safely elected and Carter was defeated for failure to rescue these hostages.
      Israel has played whore for so many extreme right wing, mostly Republican crooks of our government, it is no wonder every vote to correct the “nazi-like” treatment of Palestinians is met with refusal of the US Government to stand on its founding principles of justice and fair play. Why don’t you just order another attack like the one perpetrated by Israel on the USS Liberty during the Six Day War…Or was that just “another mistake”???

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