Secret Israeli-Iranian Ties Resurface Over Ship Seizure

by Jacques Pinto
Agence France Presse
August 29, 2002


Germany's impounding of Israeli military equipment headed for Iran points once again to the shadowy relations some Israeli companies have with the Islamic republic, a country the Jewish state has often branded its worst enemy.

Tehran, with whom Israel severed diplomatic relations during the 1979 Islamic revolution, dismissed allegations it was involved with the Zim-Anvers, the ship carrying the equipment which was seized in the northern port of Hamburg, as "complete nonsense".

The boat seized Wednesday was carrying rubber parts that could be used to make caterpillar tracks for tanks and armored vehicles, and German officials reportedly received intelligence it was headed to Iran instead of Thailand, as was claimed. The Israeli company PAD, headed by Avihai Weinstein, 34, had received "a legal export license for these products made in Israel upon its confirmation that Thailand was the final destination of the shipment," the defence ministry said in a statement.

"But German customs told us the final destination was Iran," the statement said, adding that the ministry had ordered a police investigation be launched.

Israel suspects Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons within the next several years and ranks it as one of its main strategic threats.

According to the top-selling Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, the shipment was to be transferred in Hamburg on to the Iran Bakri cargo carrier and shipped to southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

The caterpillars are used on US-made M-113 personnel carriers, which both the Israeli and Iranian armies have in their arsenals.

Weinstein, speaking through his lawyers, swore he acted in good faith and claimed he had no way of knowing the final destination of his shipment.

The PAD chairman was detained the first time two years ago over a similar case which also involved his brother-in-law, Elie Cohen, suspected of having sold engines for troops carriers to Iran in 1996.

He was released a few days later for a lack of evidence.

Raphael Eitan, an adviser on terrorism for several Israeli governments between 1978 and 1985, told public radio Thursday it was impossible for Weinstein "not to know what the final destination of the shipment was."

"In this type of affair, there is no innocent contract. He knew the shipment was headed to Iran," he said.

His said he believed the Israeli defence ministry "was aware of the shipment's final destination, but could not refuse the export license and set up a trap" for Weinstein by alerting the German police.

There were many precedents of arms deals between Israel and Iran.

In July 1998, Nahum Manbar was sentenced to 16 years in prison over spying and treason charges for having sold chemical weapons to Iran.

Already under the Iran's former Shah's regime, Israel had strong links with non-Arab government in the form of military and trade alliances such as oil-for-arms arrangements against their common Arab enemy Iraq.

Against the backdrop of the 1980-1998 Iran-Iraq war, Israel continued to supply arms to Tehran when Ayatollah Khomeini took power and even after the 1979-1981 hostage crisis at the US embassy there.

The most notorious case of the shadowy relations between the two countries was the "Irangate" scandal which broke in 1986 over the secret financing of the anti-Sandinista Contras guerrilla in Nicaragua through arms sales to Iran with Israel acting as an intermediary.

The mastermind of the operation was Israel's ex-military attache in Iran, Yaacov Nimrodi, who also supervised the Jewish state's armament trade with Iran throughout the war, after which then prime minister Shimon Peres replaced him with his own adviser, who later died in a mystery plane crash in Mexico.

Copyright 2002 Agence France Presse

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