The full extent to which Israel supplied weapons to Argentina during the Falklands War was revealed this week in newly-declassified documents.
It has long been known that Israel supplied arms to the Argentine junta, but secret reports aired for the first time show that Menachem Begin’s government also supplied fighter jets responsible for killing dozens of British troops.
The Foreign Office files show that Israel sold Buenos Aires Skyhawk jets that bombed and sunk four British warships, including the Sir Galahad, the blaze on which killed 48 soldiers and sailors.
Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister at the time, had previously been head of Irgun, the Jewish pre-state militia operating in British Mandate Palestine, and was well-known for his hatred of London, after authorities hanged his friend Dov Gruner in 1947 for firing on policemen.
Intelligence reports from the time show that Begin sent General Galtieri 23 advanced Mirage IIIC fighter jets, disguised with the insignia of Peru, alongside air-to-air missiles, anti-tank mines, mortars, bombs, machine guns, gas masks, radar alert systems and fuel tanks for fighter bombers, all the while denying Israeli involvement.
The newly-declassified files even show that, as late as 1984, Israel was trying to sell Argentina spy planes, despite Foreign Office requests that it stop arming the junta.
“I do not believe the Israelis are to be moved on this issue,” wrote C.W. Long, then head of the Near East and North Africa Department at the Foreign Office, in a memo dated 16 November 1984. “This is not satisfactory, but Israeli interests in Argentina will outweigh any readiness they might otherwise feel to be helpful to us.”
In January 2013, papers released under the 30-year rule show that Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister at the time, suggested Britain’s Jewish community be used to “influence the Israelis,” after she discovered Israel’s involvement.
In minutes of a cabinet meeting on 24 May 1982, at the height of the conflict, she order Francis Pym, then foreign secretary, to “devise ways of influencing the Israelis” using various means, including links through Anglo-Jewry.