Yisrael Ziv
© REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov/File Photo
Brigadier-General Yisrael Ziv, commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, speaks at a news conference in Gaza September 3, 2002.
Once again, a powerful Israeli commits serious crimes in Africa. Once again, there are no consequences in Israel.

This time, the alleged criminal is a former major general named Israel Ziv, who once headed the Israeli army's Operations Directorate. The scene of his crimes is the nation of South Sudan, which has been torn by a civil war since 2013, in which some 400,000 people have already died. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has just added more details to the terrible story.

The story is complicated, but here is a summary: in 2015, ex-General Ziv's "security services firm" contracted with the South Sudanese government to run a farming project, intended to alleviate hunger there. The need is obvious; some 7 million South Sudanese face hunger, mainly due to the disruption of the civil war, and 1.8 million of them are on the brink of starvation.

In fact, the farming project was a fraud. Ziv allegedly used it as cover to sell the government $150 million worth of weapons, "rifles, grenade launchers, and shoulder-fired rockets." The OCCRP just found that he worked with a big international oil trader, Trafigura, to cover his tracks.

But the story gets even worse. Ziv wasn't apparently content with his profits so he allegedly also stoked the conflict. The U.S. government, which blacklisted him last December, charged that "he has also reportedly 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."


Comment: And where do you think he learned to do precisely this? Why, in the IDF, of course.


Ziv's activities are so reprehensible that even the Trump administration's Treasury Department sanctioned him and three of his companies.

But Israel's government? So far, nothing. Larry Derfner, a leading Israeli journalist, said Ziv appeared briefly in the Israeli press when the U.S. sanctioned him, but since then not a word. Derfner, author of the acclaimed memoir, No Country for Jewish Liberals, added that Ziv "is just another Israeli mercenary living his life."

Ex-general Ziv is hardly the first Israeli to commit crimes in Africa with no punishment in Israel. Dan Gertler, an Israeli billionaire, has teamed up with Joseph Kabila, the former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to loot that desperately poor country of billions. Another Israeli super-wealthy businessman, Beny Steinmetz, was mixed up in corruption over mining deals in the West African nation of Guinea.

Israel's silence is the more surprising given that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been conducting a diplomatic offensive to improve relations with Africa. Israel must hope that more Africans do not learn that Israel looks the other way when its citizens commit terrible crimes on the continent.
James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.