Israel and Myanmar: Beyond Military Assistance

As announced in December 2018 by Israeli Ambassador Ronen Gilor, the Middle-East country engages with Myanmar in selected sectors of  the economy.

Children are carrying water. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

Currently, there is a cooperation in the fields of agrar-technology like drip irrigation, greenhousing and water management in general, as reports say. Here, Mandalay and Taunggyi in Southern Shan state are the main areas of activities, Yangon notwithstanding.

These locations count for the main German business activities in Myanmar as well.

Health Sector and Trade Relations

Concerning the health sector, Israel gives assistance to branches like hospital management and staff training. Due to the Covid-19 situation, Israel is providing Personal Protective Equipment to War Bar Gyi Hospital, Yangon. Furthermore, Burmese physicians get a special training for raising the standards of eye health in the country.

There are also innovation initiatives related to cybersecurity and smart cities in the pipeline.  

The Myanmar-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Innovation (MICCI) will come into being this year, depending on the approval of the Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration (DICA).

Historical Background

Dating back to 1954, the relationship between Myanmar and Israel is well-established.  In that year, the Burmese government ended the British Military Assistance. Simultanously, Myanmar accepted Israeli consultants and the delivery of military equipment from Israel, which the United States refused to deliver to a nation trying to stay neutral in the Cold War.

This policy was framed by the bloc building in Southeast Asia after the Second World War.

 In 1955, Prime Minister U Nu accomplished the first state visit ever made to David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister of Israel. Neither having a relationship to India nor to China, the sandwich-country Myanmar was more than welcomed by Israel.

 In the early 1960s, Myanmar joined the Non-Alignment Movement, whereas Israel did not.

Arms Selling and Court Ruling

Until 2017, Israel continuously delivered military equipment to Myanmar. No exception was made during the fall of 2017, when the Burmese army triggered the mass exodus of the Rohingya population by heavily violating international standards of law in Rakhine state.

In this context, Israel’s military cooperation with Myanmar was brought before Israeli courts. A ruling of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem of October 2017 has been declared secret ever since.

Currently, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) like the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid (IsraAid) do not have any assignment in Myanmar. In December 2015, this NGO was engaged in Myanmar during a flooding crisis.

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