Israel Told UN It Was Not Selling Lethal Weapons to South Sudan

Israel decided to halt arms supplies to South Sudan at early stage of civil war, and even attempted to mediate between warring sides, officials say.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Soldiers in South Sudan.
Soldiers in South Sudan.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel pledged to a visiting United Nations delegation some two months ago that it does not supply lethal weapons to either side in the South Sudanese civil war, officials in Jerusalem have told Haaretz.

Israel told the delegation that it had decided to halt supplying lethal weapons to South Sudan and that the decision had been fully implemented, the officials said.

The civil war in South Sudan broke out in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir, of the Dinka tribe, accused his former deputy Riek Machar, of the Nuer tribe, of planning a coup. Both sides have been accused of committing war crimes. In August 2015, after over 20 months of fighting, the sides reached a peace deal under the threat of additional sanctions by the UN Security Council, including an arms embargo.

A file photo taken on February 10, 2015 shows boys at a child soldiers' disarmament, demobilization and reintegration ceremony in Pibor, South Sudan, overseen by UNICEF and partners. Credit: AFP

The UN Security Council decided last March to impose sanctions on both sides to the conflict. A committee of experts was established to monitor the implementation of the sanctions or their violation.

The sanctions included a ban on weapons sales to the warring sides. The committee issued an interim report in August last year in which it noted that aerial photographs had shown soldiers from both sides armed with ACE assault rifles, the updated model of the Galil rifle developed by the Israel Military Industries.

A Sudanese soldier, right, holding an Israeli-made rifle.Credit: UN report

A UN delegation of experts visited Israel about two months ago as a consequence of the report. They met with Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry officials in a bid to clarify the supply of Israeli weapons to South Sudan.

Israel informed the delegation that the weapons seen in the photographs had been supplied to the Sudanese army and other security bodies by private Israeli companies with security export licenses prior to the outbreak of the civil war, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Officials told Haaretz that the Israeli decision to halt weapons supplies to South Sudan was taken at an early stage of the civil war. They added that Israel had even attempted to mediate between Kiir and Machar, but had been unsuccessful.

“We had good relations with both sides,” said an official who was involved in the issue but asked to remain anonymous. “We tried to calm the situation and had contacts with both sides. The Foreign Ministry even sent mediators to [South Sudanese capital] Juba and we passed messages via Ethiopia and other channels. But without success.”

The officials said that leaders of both sides had attempted to gain Israel’s support and had asked for weapons. Given the situation, the Foreign Ministry held a discussion early last year to set a new policy for security exports to South Sudan.

Representatives of the Defense Ministry, the National Security Agency and other government bodies dealing with South Sudan participated in the discussion.

It was decided to reject the representations from both sides and refrain from transferring lethal weapons of any type to South Sudan. At the same time, it was decided that the export of non-lethal items, such as protective vests, could continue.

“We have implemented that decision ever since,” an official said.

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