Exclusive: US objections could kill $209 million Honduras deal

Security pact hinges on downing of possible drug planes.

By
December 14, 2016 23:45
2 minute read.
Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández and Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández and Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu . (photo credit: TWITTER/ CASA PRESIDENCIAL)

 
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A massive security agreement Israel recently signed with Honduras could run into major hurdles in Washington, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez came to Israel last week – for the second time in 13 months – to finalize the deal for more than $200 million in military contracts.

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Though few details were made public, Hernandez said at a press conference in Honduras in November it would allow for the upgrading of his country’s naval and air forces “like never before.”

Hernandez was accompanied on his one-day visit here by his Defense Minister Samuel Armando Reyes Rendon, who signed a declaration on security cooperation with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

The Honduran Air Force is a key component in the government’s battle against drug traffickers in the country. Gangs, organized crime and drugs have long plagued the Central American nation, and for many years it held the dubious title of “murder capital of the world.”

Hernandez has said the deal with Israel will give the Honduran government capabilities it has never had before to “protect its territory, sovereignty and people.”

According to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, the contracts with Israel – valued at $209 million – include the refurbishment of the Honduran Air Force’s entire helicopter fleet, as well as many of its fixedwing aircraft. These include US-made F-5 and A-37 jets and Bell UH-1 Hughes 500 “Huey” helicopters.



And that is what may become an issue for Washington, and what – according to one diplomatic source – “throws a wrench into what otherwise sounds like a simple deal.”

The US stopped most of its assistance to the Honduran Air Force in 2014, after one of Hernandez’s first acts as president was to get the “Law of Aerial Exclusion” passed.

This law authorizes the air force to shoot down suspected drug planes flying through Honduran airspace, something the US considers a violation of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.

This protocol places strict restrictions on damaging aircraft in flight, and was signed by Honduras in 1953.

The US is concerned that providing maintenance and repair for the Honduran Air Force would violate that protocol.

According to diplomatic sources, because Honduras has been unable to upgrade or repair much of its fleet in the US, it looked elsewhere.

A State Department official confirmed that US approval must be sought for a third-party transfer to maintain or upgrade US technology on any aircraft of US origin.

The official would not say, however, whether Israel either sought or received US permission to upgrade the planes, adding that as a matter of policy he could not comment on proposed defense transfers.

The US opposition to shooting down planes involved in drug trafficking stems from an incident in Peru in 2001 when a US missionary and her infant were killed on a plane shot down by the Peruvian Air force.

US objections have scuttled Israeli arms deals in the past, most notably in 2000 when Israel backed out of a multi-billion dollar deal to sell Phalcon airborne early- warning and control systems (AWACS) to China. The US was concerned that selling this technology to China would undermine US security interests.

The Foreign Ministry referred queries about the Honduras deal to the Defense Ministry which, after two days, had still not responded as to whether Israel sought US permission to upgrade and maintain the airplanes, or whether the US has registered any objections to the deal.

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