Israel Probes Israeli Mercenaries’ Role in Colombia With AM-Colombia, Bjt
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel said Wednesday it is investigating reports that Israeli mercenaries trained murder teams for drug lords in Colombia. One source said two such men were smuggled out of Colombia after last week’s political assassination.
Drug traffickers have been blamed for the shooting of leading presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan at a political rally in that South American nation on Friday. Galan’s death led to a huge arrest sweep in Colombia this week.
The source spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. He has close ties to Israel’s Defense Department and was involved in an Israeli TV report.
The Itim news agency also reported that Israeli mercenaries were spirited out of Colombia after Sen. Galan’s death.
A government inquiry was ordered into whether Israelis were training assassination squads for the Medellin drug cartel following an American TV report.
Amnon Rubinstein, leader of the left-wing Shinui Party, said he called for the probe because he believed Israelis were ″shocked and stunned″ by a film shown by NBC News, also screened on Israeli television, purportedly showing Israelis during training of drug assassins.
The Israeli government said any of its citizens involved in Colombian drug slayings were acting on their own, but critics charged that even a role by private mercenaries could damage Israel’s interests.
″It blemishes Israel,″ said Rubinstein.
One Israeli source, insisting on anonymity, said Wednesday’s Foreign Ministry announcement that a probe was under way came after the United States asked Israel to look into the role of its citizens.
The ministry said any involvement by Israelis would involve ″individuals who are acting on their own ... in violation of Israeli law and contrary to Israeli policy, which is strongly committed to the war on drugs.″
″The Foreign Ministry, along with other ministries and relevant authorities, is checking the facts and will take all possible steps to prevent such activities.″
Israeli TV on its midnight news report identified by name three colonels in Israel’s military reserve it said were involved in Colombia: Yair Klein, Avraham Tzadaka and Yaakov Brine.
In the NBC film, one man pictured in a group wearing fatigues could be heard saying in Hebrew that it was a ″good exercise″ and everything went well.
Israel television identified that man as Klein.
A source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Klein commanded the Israeli paratrooper’s anti-terror unit in 1983.
He said Klein traveled to Colombia in 1985, where he set up a security company called Hod Hahanit (Glory of the Spear).
The television said a spokesman for Hod Hahanit would not say if it was Klein who appeared in the broadcast or that he was involved in training paramilitary forces in Colombia.
The TV said Hod Hahanit employes several high-ranking Israeli officers, including three other reserve colonels.
It identified them as Tzadaka, a former paratroop commander; Brine, a helicopter expert formerly with the air force, and a third reserve colonel, not identified by name, who had commanded a tank brigade.
While Israel has used its military expertise to build a highly successful industry in exporting weapons and security equipment, it also has found itself in the position of having to deny government involvement in questionable operations.
Cmdr. Yehoshua Caspi, investigations chief for the National Police, requested through Interpol that Colombia provide Israel with any information on drug-related activities of Israeli citizens.
A government source, speaking on condition of not being further identified, said the Defense and Justice ministries also were involved in the probe.
Rubinstein of the Shinui Party said Israel could block such mercenaries through a law that forbids ex-soldiers from using their military training abroad without Defense Ministry approval.
Shimon Shitrit, a member of Parliament from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud bloc, said Israel may have to take stronger steps to stop its citizens from using their military training in questionable situations.
″It needs to be discussed. It is damaging Israel,″ Shitrit said on state radio.
Israel TV in an earlier broadcast Wednesday said that the man in the NBC film was identified by Israeli weapons dealers in Colombia. It said Colombia’s secret service ordered the weapons dealers to tell all Israeli army experts involved in training forces for drug cartels to leave the country immediately.
Shortly after the warning ″a number of Israelis ... were hurriedly smuggled from the country,″ the television said.
Benny Tal, head of a security company with clients overseas, said Israelis with military skills often are lured by the lucrative pay of mercenary work.