JERUSALEM, Oct. 23 (JTA) — Israeli officials are describing the arrest of a high-ranking army officer suspected of passing classified material to Hezbollah in exchange for drugs as one of the country’s most serious spy cases ever. Ten other Israelis have been arrested in connection with the case. Some details were released for publication on Wednesday. According to the information released, the alleged ring was led by the officer, who holds the rank of lieutenant colonel, and operated for about a year and a half. The officer, as well as the 10 other suspects, are all from northern Israel. The officer was expected to be charged Thursday in a special military court in Tel Aviv of charges of espionage, aiding the enemy, and drug offenses. The other suspects will be charged in a district court in Nazareth, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported. The officer is suspected of passing on information to Hezbollah regarding the deployment and activities of troops in northern Israel. In addition, he was asked to convey information on the movements of the former head of the Israeli army’s northern command, Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and other senior officers, as well as maps of the Hermon area and the disputed Shabaa Farms. The officer was arrested a month and a half ago following a joint intelligence operation by the Shin Bet security service and police. The officer, whose name and position were not released for publication, denies the allegations, as does his family. His attorney, Amnon Zichroni, said the allegations were untrue. “I can’t expand on the details of the affair because I cannot reveal the identity of the suspect. But I can see he denies all responsibility and says the allegations against him are baseless,” Zichroni was quoted by the daily Yediot Achronot as saying. According to the investigation, the officer, who served for many years in Lebanon, made contact with elements close to Hezbollah and passed on classified information in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs, which were smuggled into Israel and sold. The alleged network is suspected of using Lebanese drug runners as intermediaries. Israeli security sources said that “a number of times in recent months, intelligence material that was sensitive and of good quality was passed on in exchange for permission from Hezbollah elements for the transfer of hundreds of kilograms of drugs into Israel,” according to Yediot. The investigation was launched on Sept. 12, when two alleged ring members were arrested near Kibbutz Sasa, along the northern border, with about 19 pounds of hashish and 15 pounds of heroin. They were apprehended following a drug deal with a Lebanese contact at the border. The ensuing inquiry revealed the officer’s suspected involvement as head of the ring, and his suspected long-time contact with a Lebanese drug dealer identified as Abu-Said, who was close to Hezbollah. According to the investigation, the 10 other suspects allegedly were asked to obtain army communications equipment. One of the suspects was apprehended when he tried to get into an army base to get the equipment, the radio said. The ring also allegedly gave the Lebanese a number of cellular phones, one of which was found on the body of a Hezbollah gunmen killed in a clash following an attack near Kibbutz Matzuva last spring in which six Israelis were killed. The phone helped lead investigators to the suspects, Israel Radio reported. The alleged espionage affair comes as Israeli security agencies have tried to uncover attempts to recruit Israelis. Such efforts led to the arrest earlier this year of Nissim Nasser, a 35-year-old Lebanese immigrant currently on trial for providing information to Hezbollah. Nasser, the son of a Jewish woman and Muslim father, immigrated to Israel in 1992.
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