Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Why are so many Israelis arrested over illegal arms deals worldwide?

The U.S. authorities' recent arrest of an Israeli for seeking to sell arms to Somalia raises disturbing questions and answers

At least seven Israeli arms dealers are currently in jail in four countries - the United States, Russia, France and Britain - on charges of illegal arms dealing. Some of them are also suspected of crimes such as forgery, bribery, money laundering and violating UN Security Council embargoes. Such arrests are briefly covered in Israel and then forgotten. But they have a cumulative effect that is very damaging to Israel's image, or what remains of it.

Even though it is doubtful whether those in jail know one another, they have quite a lot in common. All are men in their fifties or sixties. All are well to do (or were in the past ), having made most of their money in international arms dealing or in exporting security services and equipment from Israel. They served in the Israel Defense Forces and reached mid-level ranks (from captain to lieutenant colonel ), and when they were arrested, they denied the charges. Friends who came to their assistance described them, naturally, as "the salt of the earth."

All seven are familiar faces in the corridors of the defense establishment, and at one time received arms dealing permits from the Defense Ministry. All sought to "expedite procedures" in violation of local or international laws, and did so out of pure greed. Due to this covetousness, they also fell into traps and can expect to face many years in jail.

Shimon Naor-Hershkowitz is detained in France and will apparently be extradited to Romania, where he will serve an 11-year jail sentence. He was convicted of forging documents (end-user certificates ) that he used to purchase Romanian arms together with a Romanian partner (who later informed on him to the authorities ). The arms were ostensibly destined for Togo, but in reality were sent to rebels in Angola.

Yair Klein has been held for over a year in a Russian jail, after being arrested there at the behest of Colombia, which wants him on charges of training drug barons' bodyguards. Klein, almost 70, may be the Israeli who comes closest to being a "mercenary" of the ugliest sort. He has previously done jail time in Sierra Leone.

In a British jail sits Gidon Sarig, 58, who was sentenced several months ago to seven years in prison for selling arms and other combat gear to parties in Venezuela, Peru, Senegal, Nigeria, Gabon and, primarily, Sri Lanka.

And in January, Ofer Pazaf, 50, the president of a Kfar Sava company that works as an intermediary and represents security consultants and defense industries, was arrested in Las Vegas. Arrested with him were two other Israelis who have lived in the U.S. for several years: Yohanan Cohen, 47, the CEO of a San Francisco company that manufactures security gear, and Haim Gary, 50, the president of a Miami company that functions as a middleman for defense companies. More

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