Israel’s Hand in Guatemala’s Genocide

From the Archive: As world leaders struggle to praise the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, infamous for abetting the 1982 massacre of Palestinian civilians at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, another grim chapter of Sharon’s history was his role in the Guatemalan genocide, Robert Parry wrote in 2013.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on May 23, 2013)

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)

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 Sharon 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 the early 1980s, Sharon was Israel’s Minister of Defense collaborating with the Reagan administration on secret shipments of weapons to Iran and claiming a green light for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which led to the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982, carried out by Israel’s Christian Lebanese allies under Sharon’s protection.)

In an interview in May 2013, 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; the distinction being that the Israelis did not identify the slaughters as genocide against a specific racial or ethnic group.

“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 now 87-year-old ex-general was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by a criminal court on May 10, 2013, and was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

But that conviction was overturned 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 For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.


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

  1. borat
    January 14, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    There is obviously nothing funny about the 1982 massacre in Lebanon of hundreds of mainly Muslim Palestinians at the hands of an Arab Christian militia at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

    But, since practically the entire world has blamed the incident on Israel and one Ariel Sharon, it is hard not to chuckle at the way he once characterised the situation following his removal as defence minister, not for carrying out the massacre of course, but for not doing enough to prevent a massacre carried out by others.

    “I’m the only minister of defence in the world — the only one — who left his post and went back to work on a tractor, on his farm, as a result of what Christians did to Muslims. The only one.”

    It’s so true, and so piercing because it cuts down to size the flat out liars who have always blamed him for something he just didn’t do. It can even get as absurd as this nasty little lie slipped into today’s editorial in the Guardian, without question the most bigoted British newspaper when it comes to matters Israeli.

    “In 1982, serving as defense minister, he allowed Christian Phalangists into the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila, where they massacred more than 700 men, women and children. An Israeli government inquiry concluded that Mr Sharon bore personal responsibility for the incident,” the paper, which is the house journal of the BBC said.

    The only way to make sense of this garbage is to conclude that Sharon must have ordered the Phalangists to do it — which obviously he didn’t — or that he was clairvoyant — which obviously he wasn’t; and knew in advance exactly what was going to happen.

    The lie is doubled up with reference to the Israeli government report which simply says he was responsible for not doing enough to stop the incident, not that he actually bore responsibility for what took place. That’s why he and several others were held to have had a measure of indirect responsibility, but not to have been responsible for the incident itself.

    In other words, the truth is the exact opposite of what the Guardian says it is. And they know it.

    The Guardian also knows that less than 1 percent of readers will drill down to get to the truth; and in spreading outright lies, a 99 percent success rate is good enough for them. It’s all done of course to discredit, by association, Israel as a whole, because mud sticks.

    Oh, you don’t think mud sticks?
    Let’s finish with a question or two. Everyone who has heard of Sabra and Shatila has heard of Ariel Sharon in relation to it. But how many people do you think know the names of the Phalangist leaders who actually commanded, led and carried out the massacre?

    Do you know their names? Worth a thought isn’t it…?

    Sharon had nothing to do with the killings. Elie Hobeika was the person who ordered the killings and not Ariel Sharon. people, after Sabra and Chatilla, Hobeika was put under protection by Assad Sr in Lebanon.

    After Syria invaded and took over Lebanon in 1990. Hobeika was rewarded by Assad for his actions in Sabra and Chatilla and put in the Lebanese parliament for 10 years.
    It was then learned by Hobeika’s bodyguard,
    (Roger Hatem), Elie Hobeika was a Syrian agent in the 82 War. Hatem was Hobeika’s bodyguard for 10 years. Roger Hatem wrote a book called, from Israel to Damascus. You can read the book online. Just google, From Israel to Damascus.

    Hatem documents, how Hobeika ordered the killings at Sabra and Chatilla to make Israel look bad, so Syria could control Lebanon.

    The only reason why the Christians went along with Hobeika’s orders, was to avenge the thousands of Christians, who were killed by the PLO in Damour Lebanon and because the Lebanese Christian President Gamayel was just killed.

    2nd, in 1985, the Syrian backed Amals Shiites, attacked the same Sabra camp and killed 650 Arabs. Ofcourse when Arabs kill each other, no one cares. What Hatem documents in his book. Sharon told Hobeika only to go after the armed PLO gunman in Sabra.

    Sharon made very clear to Hobeika not to target any civilians. Hobeika agreed to the orders. Then Hobeika gave his own orders to his men. Kill anyone they see in Sabra. Hobeika did this, to make Israel look bad, so Syria could control Lebanon .
    If the Arabs were so concerned about the people killed in Sabra and Chatilla, why did Syria and Lebanon protect the person who ordered the killings. (Elie Hobeika).

    Why did Assad put Hobeika in the Syrian controlled Lebanese parliament for 10 years?

    What you had in Sabra and Chatilla was Arabs killing Arabs.
    Not one single Israeli killed any Arab there.

    • abraham
      January 20, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      After all said,
      Germany has adolph
      and the jews have sharon

      Both responsible for many civilian killings

  2. Roger Thomas
    January 15, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Borat – your notoriety as a Zionist propagandist does not serve you well in trying to whitewash the monster Sharon. His record of massacres (Unit 101), atrocities and brutal disregard for human rights condemns him as a bloody murderer and war criminal – as are all Zionists.

  3. John
    January 16, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Borat,you have convenient memory lapses. Any Israeli leader would have known what the Christian Phalange would do if let into the Palestinian refugee camps. Sharon had just falsely blamed the death of the Phalnge leader on Palestinians for God’s sake. Soldiers overheard and reported what they heard Phalange leaders planning before the incident. For two days Israeli soldiers just outside the camps could hear what was going on and could see escapees from the camp. Israel supplied trucks for the bodies which were obviously not those of terrorists. And from a vantage point outside the camp, Israeli soldiers could get a sight into the camp.
    It was a convenient way to have a massacre and blame it on others.
    The Palestinian fighters (protect them from maligant Lebanese anti Palestinian gangs) had long gone and Arafat was on his way to Tunis. What a whitewash the Israeli investigation was but Sharon was found “indirectly responsible”. What a laugh. After all he was involved in at least two massacres in 48.

  4. borat
    January 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    I guess you have “official” records from “Palestinian fighters” to back you up.

    • John
      January 17, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      They (Palestinian guards) had left and Arafat was on his way to Tunisia with the help of the Americans because the word was out the Israelis wanted to kill him, the one man who thought he had a peace deal until Rabin was murdered by a radical Zionist. The Americans were supposed to have been protecting the refugee camps but they were abscent for God’s sake. Sharon knew what he was doing, and he was warned not to do what he was going to do with Sabra and Shatila by the US envoy.
      The sooner people like you realize that you are doing things to other people that were done to your own people the better. God doesn’t have a choosen people, that is nationalistic myth by a people who didn’t know the earth was round. Jews Christians and Muslims have a right to live in the region of Palestine together in peace. They did it once before until Zionism was invented.
      And when you displace over 700,000 people in 1948 any dolt would expect a few will be radicalized. Everyone deserves equal opportunity and through that you will get peace. You won’t get it by brutal supression and racism.

      • Bruce
        January 18, 2014 at 2:42 am

        “There is one dwelling above the circle of the earth, the dwellers of which are as grasshoppers, the one who is stretching out the heavens just as a fine gauze who spreads them out like a tent in which to dwell.” Isaiah 40:22

        The word translated “circle” above comes from the Hebrew word “chugh” which contains the idea of a sphere like object such as a planet, a “round” planet Earth. Just saying . . .

  5. John
    January 21, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Amost interesting article by Uri Avnery posted on The Palestinian Chronicle
    The Imperator: Sharon’s Catastrophic Legacy – Jan 18 2014 – by Uri Avnery

    ….when Begin’s preferred Defense Minister, the former Air Force chief Ezer Weizman, resigned, Begin was compelled to appoint Sharon as his successor. For the second time I chose Sharon as Haolam Hazeh’s Man of the Year. He took this very seriously and sat with me for many hours, in several meetings at his home and office, in order to explain his ideas.
    One of them, which he expounded at the same time to the US strategic planners, was to conquer Iran. When Ayatollah Khomeini dies, he said, there will begin a race between the Soviet Union and the US to determine who will arrive first on the scene and take over. The US is far away, but Israel can do the job. With the help of heavy arms that the US will store in Israel well before, our army will be in full possession before the Soviets move. He showed me the detailed maps of the advance, hour by hour and day by day.
    This was typical Sharon, His vision was wide and all-embracing. His listener was left breathless, comparing him to the ordinary little politicians, devoid of vision and breadth. But his ideas were generally based on abysmal ignorance of the other side, and therefore came to naught.
    At the same time, nine months before the Lebanon War, he disclosed to me his Grand Plan for a new Middle East of his making. He allowed me to publish it, provided I did not mention him as the source. He trusted me.
    Basically it was the same as the one he wanted to propose to Arafat.
    The army would invade Lebanon and drive the Palestinians from there to Syria, from whence the Syrians would drive them into Jordan. There the Palestinians would overthrow the king and establish the State of Palestine.
    The army would also drive the Syrians out of Lebanon. In Lebanon Sharon would choose a Christian officer and install him as dictator. Lebanon would make official peace with Israel and in effect become a vassal state.
    I duly published all this, and nine months later Sharon invaded Lebanon, after lying to Begin and the cabinet about his aims. But the war was a catastrophe, both militarily and politically.
    Militarily it was a demonstration of “the Peter principle” – the brilliant battle commander was a miserable strategist. No unit of the Israeli army reached its objective on time, if at all. The Israeli-installed dictator, Bachir Gemayel, was assassinated. His brother and successor signed a peace treaty with Israel, which has been completely forgotten by now. The Syrians remained in Lebanon for many years to come. The Israeli army extricated itself after a guerrilla war that lasted 18 full years, during which the despised and downtrodden Shiites in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon became the dominant political force in the country.
    And, worst of all, in order to induce the Palestinians to flee, Sharon let the barbarous Christian Phalangists into the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, where they committed a terrible massacre. Hundreds of thousands of outraged Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, and Sharon was dismissed from the defense ministry.
    At the height of the Battle of Beirut I crossed the lines and met with Yasser Arafat, who had become Sharon’s Nemesis. Since then, Sharon and I did not exchange a single word, not even greeting each other.

  6. borat
    January 25, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Israel foiled another radical islamist bomb plot that targeted the American Embassy. You can’t have peace with these bastards who would kill all of the Jews in Israel if they could.

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