TEL AVIV (Aug. 28)
Two Israel Defense Force reserve officers were interrogated by police investigators Monday about their allegedly unauthorized export of military equipment and know-how to non-governmental groups in Colombia.
Reserve Lt. Col. Yair Klein, who heads a security consulting firm called Hod Hahanit, appeared at the criminal investigation division headquarters of the national police in Petach Tikva, at the request of the Defense Ministry.
He said he welcomed the police probe, in order to clear his name of rumors that he trained “hit squads” for the drug cartels in Colombia.
Also appearing was the No. 2 man at Hod Hahanit, Reserve Lt. Col. Amatzia Shouali, who was in charge of the paramilitary training program in Colombia.
The government, on the eve of the police probe, formally dissociated itself from any IDF personnel who may have engaged in illegal activities in Colombia.
Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein read a brief statement to that effect after the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir appeared on television Sunday night to reassure the public that the government would take legal and other measures ^to prevent such activities and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
On Monday, the prime minister urged Israelis not to jump to unfounded conclusions that certain people were involved with drug traffickers.
Such allegations surfaced a week ago, when NBC News broadcast a videotape showing uniformed men in Colombia being trained by a Hebrew-speaking officer. The trainees were described as drug “hit men.”
COULD OPEN ‘PANDORA’S BOX’
When the videotape was shown on Israel Television, the officer was identified as Klein. He readily admitted in television and radio interviews here that his firm had provided equipment and know-how in Colombia about 18 months ago.
He said it trained security guards for farmers and cattle ranchers who were troubled by guerrillas and cattle rustlers their government could not control.
Klein denied involvement with drug traffickers. He said, however, that they may have entered the picture after he terminated his contract in Colombia and was replaced by mercenaries from the United States, Britain and South Africa.
While it is legal for Israelis, mainly retired IDF officers, to engage in the export of weapons, technology and combat expertise, such activities are governed by an elaborate set of rules and a strict licensing system.
Inspector Yehoshua Caspi, commander of the criminal investigation division, is personally heading the probe of Hod Hahanit. He said its primary focus will be to determine whether Klein and his associates violated Defense Ministry regulations in their activities in Colombia.
The investigation apparently is not particularly concerned over whether the subjects were involved with the drug cartel, though Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement last week saying that Israel is “strongly committed to the war on drugs.”