In the House of Commons on November 1, Liberal MP Marie-France Lalonde, parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, explicitly denied that Canada was providing military support to Israel in its ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip, which has killed at least 10,000 Palestinians.
“We’re providing force protection for Canadians and assisting the Canadian Embassy in Israel with contingency planning,” Lalonde said, adding that this is similar to the role the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) played in Sudan earlier this year with Operation SAVANNE.
In Sudan, the CAF evacuated 536 people from the country on three flights from April 27 to 29.
But in Israel, the CAF flights went both ways.
At an October 13 news conference concerning Canadian efforts to evacuate Israelis from Israel, CAF Vice Admiral Bob Auchterlonie noted that in addition to two flights from Tel Aviv to Athens transporting a total of 461 passengers, the CAF flew two flights sending 28 Israelis from Athens to Tel Aviv “at the request of the State of Israel.”
“I don’t have the details, the information on who they were. But it was a request from the State of Israel, which we got through the [sic] Global Affairs Canada,” Auchterlonie added. “We certainly actioned that.”
In response to an inquiry from The Maple about who these passengers were, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) spokesperson Pierre Cuguen said the Canadian military flew “36 Israeli nationals” — eight more than Auchterlonie identified — back to Tel Aviv, “ including a surgeon and diplomats.”
“None were explicitly reservists or military personnel [emphasis added],” Guguen said.
As of November 3 — three weeks after Canada evacuated Israelis — 450 Palestinian-Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families remained trapped in Gaza, excluded from the list of foreign nationals who have been permitted to escape through Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt. On Monday, The Canadian Press reported that the Canadians were still trapped.
Canadian Special Ops Team Sent
On October 29, Global News first reported that a “small team” of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) troops, including the elite Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), was sent to Israel in the aftermath of an October 7 surprise attack led by Hamas, during which 1,400 Israelis and migrant workers died and 230 Israelis were taken captive.
Citing anonymous sources, Global reported that CANSOFCOM was sent to provide security at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv and collaborate with the Israeli military.
“There’s certainly a close relationship between Canada Special Operations Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces… so there’s nothing surprising here and it’s pretty much par for the course,” former CANSOFCOM commander Major-General Denis Thompson told Global.
He added that CANSOFCOM is routinely deployed to crisis zones, due to their high degree of preparedness and agility, to assist with intelligence gathering, evacuation planning, security for embassies and liaise with the host military.
JFT2 is a hostage rescue unit, which might explain its presence in Israel, but Thompson said it’s unlikely the unit would actively participate in rescue operations, which it has never done before. Rather, the unit is likely involved in the planning phase of any rescue operations.
Beyond military coordination, Canadian manufacturers have in recent years increased their military exports to Israel, with $21 million in 2022 and $26 million in 2021 representing the third-highest and highest annual total exports respectively. But as previously reported by The Maple, the Canadian government only discloses broad strokes about which types of munitions are being sold.
Canada’s Role in the West Bank
Mount Royal University sociologist Muhannad Ayyash, who is a Palestinian originally from Jerusalem, told The Maple that the fog of war makes it difficult to know what exactly the CAF is up to in Israel and Gaza.
Despite this ambiguity, it’s no secret that the CAF is actively participating in U.S. efforts to train the security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which nominally governs population centres in “Area A” of the occupied West Bank, under the aegis of Operation PROTEUS.
Operation PROTEUS’s mandate is twofold — to “coordinate security” between Israel and the PA and to “build the [PA’s] security capacity.”
Ayyash said in effect the PA’s job is to “police Palestinians, not to protect Palestinians from [Israeli] settlers.”
Attacks by fanatical Orthodox Jewish settlers against West Bank Palestinians have sharply increased before and after October 7, with the tacit or outright support of the Israeli military, resulting in 13 Palestinian villages being erased while the world’s attention is focused on the carnage in Gaza. GAC documents from earlier this year obtained by The Maple showed that Canadian officials downplayed the role of Israeli troops in facilitating this violence.
Ayyash, whose family and friends in the West Bank have spent the past several weeks confined to their homes out of fear of settler and Israeli military attacks, said the PA has done “fucking nothing” to protect Palestinians from settler attacks.
“The settlers are much better armed than the Palestinian Authority. They could not even physically protect Palestinians from the settlers even if we train them to, because they don’t have equipment,” he noted.
Canada’s Major Support for Israel Is Diplomatic
Whatever the extent of the Canadian military’s involvement, it pales in comparison to that of the U.S., which provides Israel with $3.8 billion in military aid annually. The U.S. is also discussing proposals to give Israel an additional package valued at $14.5 billion, including a secretive $3.5 billion portion that won’t ever have to be disclosed to Congress, for Israel’s attack on Gaza.
On November 5, U.S. Central Command deployed a nuclear submarine to the region. This comes after the U.S. redeployed the U.S.S. Gerald Ford and U.S.S. Dwight Eisenhower aircraft carriers — ironic given their namesakes’ efforts to reduce aid to Israel— to the eastern Mediterranean, as well as naval ships and fighter jets.
“Canada’s much bigger role right now is providing diplomatic cover for Israel,” Ayyash said.
In the most recent example of many similar votes, the Canadian UN delegation abstained from a Jordanian-sponsored General Assembly resolution that condemned “all attacks of violence against Palestinian and Israeli citizens, including all acts of terror and indiscriminate attacks,” but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.
Instead, it called for a “humanitarian pause,” which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has supported. But Canada didn’t support the resolution after UN Ambassador Bob Rae’s U.S.-backed proposal that the resolution explicitly condemn Hamas, but not Israel, didn’t receive the required two-thirds majority to pass.
“They’re doing their diplomatic role that the U.S. likes the Canadians to play when the U.S. is trying to cover up a genocide,” Ayyash said.
Editor's note, Nov. 9, 2023: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the most up-to-date information about the deaths of Israelis and migrant workers on October 7.
Jeremy Appel is an independent Edmonton-based journalist and the author of Kenneyism: Jason Kenney’s Pursuit of Power.
Now, let's turn to the members' corner...
The question of Canadian military involvement in Israel has prompted some lively conversations over the past week. Here’s what else you need to know.