Israeli general Israel Ziv, who sued EI writer, sanctioned by US

Israel Ziv, pictured in 2005 comforting an Israeli settler being evacuated from Gaza, has been sanctioned by the US government, which says he was illicitly trading arms that fueled the war in South Sudan. (Flickr)

The United States government has imposed sanctions on Israel Ziv, a retired Israeli general who sued an Electronic Intifada writer over an article about his activities in South Sudan.

Ziv has insisted that his activities in the war-torn country were purely aimed at promoting agriculture and development – a claim he repeated in the context of the lawsuit against the journalist David Sheen.

But on Friday, the US Treasury announced it was imposing sanctions on Ziv and another individual, South Sudanese businessman Obac William Olawo, “for being leaders of entities whose actions have the purpose or effect of expanding or extending the conflict in South Sudan.”

The US government states flatly – contradicting Ziv’s claims – that he was supplying weapons to both sides in the war.

A third individual, Gregory Vasili, the brother-in-law of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit, was also sanctioned “for actions that have undermined peace, stability and security” in the country.

The US government order freezes all US-linked assets owned by the sanctioned individuals and prohibits most transactions with them and their companies.

In July, the UN Security Council imposed a complete arms embargo on South Sudan, where human rights investigators have documented widespread atrocities during the country’s five-year civil war.

Using agriculture as cover

Ziv, whose decades in the Israeli army included a stint as military commander of the occupied Gaza Strip, lives in a West Bank settlement, according to the US government.

As recently as 2015, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Ziv the post of national police commissioner, but Ziv turned it down.

The US Treasury says that Ziv “supplied both the government of South Sudan and the opposition with weapons and ammunition.”

He also used his “agricultural” company “as a cover for the sale of approximately $150 million worth of weapons to the government, including rifles, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired rockets.”

The US government also cites reports that the general was involved in bribery and “planned to organize attacks by mercenaries on South Sudanese oil fields and infrastructure, in an effort to create a problem that only his company and affiliates could solve.”

US government cables released by Wikileaks in 2012 reveal that US officials had concerns about the military activities of Ziv and his company, Global CST, dating back years, in Colombia, Panama and Peru.

US officials also reported that firms linked to Ziv were involved in weapons sales to Togo.

When asked in an Israeli army radio interview in 2016 if he had ever traded arms in Africa or South America, Ziv replied, “I’ve never done anything even close to that and I never will.”

He insisted that he was helping millions of people with water, agriculture and development projects.

Since Friday’s announcement Ziv has again denied dealing in weapons. On Sunday, Tamar Zandberg, chair of the leftist Zionist opposition party Meretz, called on the Israeli government to suspend Ziv’s export licenses.

Zandberg termed the revelations “one of the most shameful and severe cases in the history of Israeli defense exports.”

She has also called for a criminal investigation into Ziv’s activities.

Libel lawsuit

Last year, Ziv filed a lawsuit in Israel against journalist David Sheen for a January 2017 article listing Israel’s top “racist ringleaders.”

Sheen included Ziv on his list because in December 2016, Israeli media revealed that Ziv’s firm was helping South Sudan’s President Kiir repair his reputation after the United Nations found that his government systematically permitted soldiers to rape women and children.

In the article, Sheen pondered whether Ziv’s efforts to whitewash a war criminal like Kiir were “inherently racist.”

Ziv then filed the libel lawsuit demanding that Sheen pay him $200,000 in compensation.

Ziv did not deny helping Kiir, but objected to Sheen calling him a “racist” and a “ringleader,” and someone who exploits a “global white supremacist system.”

In September, Ziv and Sheen reached a settlement agreement in which neither side admitted to the other’s claims. However, Sheen agreed to delete a number of tweets and a website about the case.

Sheen also agreed as part of the agreement that terms such as “racist” and “ringleader” should not be “interpreted as determinations of fact.”

At no time did Ziv contact The Electronic Intifada to demonstrate any factual inaccuracy in Sheen’s article, and the publication has made no changes to it.

However, in May, Ziv’s attorney Moshe Kahn emailed The Electronic Intifada to ask if the publication would agree to publish a statement from his client as part of the settlement with Sheen.

The Electronic Intifada did not respond to the request from Kahn and is not a party to the settlement agreement between Ziv and Sheen.

But the settlement agreement states that Ziv may “at his discretion” contact The Electronic Intifada and request that a “response” from him be published “verbatim” alongside Sheen’s original article.

The text of Ziv’s response to Sheen’s article is incorporated in the settlement agreement.

“It is very unfortunate that the writer of this article, Mr. David Sheen and The Electronic Intifada website have chosen to include Mr. Israel Ziv in their incorrect publications that are nothing other than libelous publications that are based on untrue facts,” Ziv’s response asserts.

“Mr. Israel Ziv’s activity in South Sudan is focused solely on agriculture,” it adds.

Since the settlement, Ziv has not contacted The Electronic Intifada.

Given Friday’s sanctions announcement by the US government, it would in any case appear that Ziv now has bigger problems than convincing The Electronic Intifada and its readers of his humanitarian bona fides.

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I hope that David Sheen through his attorneys now reopens the case. In light of the Treasury Department's determination- affirming the accuracy of Sheen's charges- Ziv should forfeit any result of their settlement and be held liable for costs as well as a penalty for false declarations under oath. As to why the U.S. government has chosen to publicly identify Ziv as the gangster he undoubtedly is, I can only speculate that a decision has been taken to suppress the arms trade in that region- or rather, to remove rogue elements like Ziv who obey no higher authority than their overseas accounts. He appears to have been operating as a junior league version of Basil Zaharoff, "The Merchant of Death" from the First World War. And it's an old game- foment conflict, supply one side with fresh arms, then go to their opponents with the same offer, back and forth, raking it in.

Incidentally, Shir Hever's recent study available in paperback, "The Privatization of Israeli Security" (Pluto Press) addresses many of the developments behind news reports such as this one.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.