Charged with crimes against humanity, an illegal government takeover and shooting at protesters, the Myanmar military seeks to change its name in foreign capitals, recruiting a former Israeli military intelligence official turned lobbyist with a defense record. controversial clients.
Ari Ben-Menashe, a Tehran-born Israeli-Canadian lobbyist, was hired by the Tatmadaw this week to “help explain the real situation in the country,” according to a consulting agreement reported by Foreign Lobby, a media outlet that tracks foreigners. government influence operations in Washington.
In a decades-long career that rarely makes headlines, Ben-Menashe, a former arms dealer, has worked for Zimbabwe’s ruler Robert Mugabe, Sudan’s military junta, and presidential candidates in Venezuela, Tunisia Y Kyrgyzstan, among others.
He confirmed the deal in media interviews, stating that he is being paid “a large amount” and that he will receive a bonus if military sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders are lifted.
Ben-Menashe said his political consulting firm, Dickens & Madson Canada, had been hired by Myanmar generals to help them communicate with the United States and other countries that he said “misinterpreted” them.
The messages he is pushing include that the country’s top civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested by the military in a coup on February 1, played a bigger role than previously known in a violent campaign of repression against the Rohingya people, and was allowing the country to drift into China’s sphere of influence.
The deal came as protests against the army coup continued in at least half a dozen cities in Myanmar on Sunday, following a night of raids against suspected dissidents and leaders of a civil disobedience movement that includes some of the top diplomats in the military. country and other public officials. .
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters in the country’s main city, Yangon, and in Lashio, a city in the northern Shan region, videos showed. A witness said police opened fire to break up a protest in the historic temple city of Bagan, and several residents said in social media posts that live bullets were used. There was no news of victims.
Ben-Menashe, 69, first stood out in the United States for alleging that then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan had conspired with Iranian revolutionaries not to release American hostages during his 1980 election campaign against Jimmy Carter.
He was also cited in reports claiming to have helped negotiate the arms sale in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair, in which senior US officials sold weapons to the Islamic Republic of Iran to finance a secret war against left-wing groups in Latin America.
In the UK, it was the source of a claim that editor Robert Maxwell was a Mossad agent. Robert Maxwell denied the claim and filed a lawsuit, but died before the case could be heard.
In 2002, Ben-Menashe was part of an operation that claimed to have caught then-Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai discussing Mugabe’s possible assassination.
He gave a glimpse of his lobbying efforts in interviews this weekend in which he claimed the military launched the February 1 coup to prevent the civilian-led government from moving further into China’s orbit.
“There is a real push to move to the west and the United States instead of trying to get closer to the Chinese,” Ben-Menashe told Reuters. “They don’t want to be a Chinese puppet.”
The claim could not be verified: Suu Kyi is under house arrest, faces charges including sedition, and has been unable to give interviews, but it appears to be an attempt to place the junta alongside repressive governments in other parts of the world, such as Egypt, enjoying the patronage of the Western government as a self-proclaimed bulwark against extremism or trusted allies against growing Chinese influence.
Ben-Menashe told Foreign Lobby that Suu Kyi had also played an important role in the marginalization of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority who have fled successive repressions that have been compared to genocide.
“Aung San Suu Kyi as the leader was the one who did it in the Rohingya, not the army,” he said.
Suu Kyi repeatedly defended violence by the military, including in The Hague in 2019, leading to her having her accolades removed, including the Nobel Peace Prize.
But a UN fact-finding mission into the alleged atrocities implicated top Myanmar military leaders as responsible for planning and carrying out the violence.
The junta justified its coup by claiming elections in November 2020 in which its affiliated political party was defeated by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
Ben-Menashe told Reuters that the board could prove that the vote was rigged and that ethnic minorities were unable to vote, but did not provide evidence. Election observers have said there were no major irregularities.
He said that in his two visits to the country since the coup, “the unrest was not that widespread” and the protest movement was not supported by the majority of the Myanmar people.
He said the police were handling the protests, not the military, despite photos and videos of armed soldiers at the demonstrations. He argued that the military was in the best position to oversee the return to democracy after the coup.
“They want to get out of politics completely,” he said, “but it is a process.”
Agencies contributed to this report
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism