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Senate Report Charges Israeli Firm Gave ‘deadly’ Advice to Drug Cartel

March 5, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

, March 4 (JTA) — Retired Israeli military commandos made Colombia’s Medellin cocaine cartel “substantially more dangerous” by teaching it “potentially deadly techniques,” Senate investigators have concluded.

That allegation — and a similar one about the role of British paramilitary experts in training the rival Cali drug cartel — were contained in a report released last week by the Republican staff of the Senate Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations.

While the report is at times sharply critical of Israeli conduct, it is unlikely to have any significant impact on U.S.-Israeli relations.

Releasing findings on what it described as a “sordid tale of greed and intrigue,” the subcommittee’s Republican staff blamed the Israeli and British governments for allowing the alleged training of the drug cartels to take place.

The Israeli training, which occurred in 1988 and 1989, was allegedly provided by an Israeli firm called Hod Hahanit, or Spearhead Ltd., headed by Israel Defense Force reserve Lt. Col. Yair Klein.

“Israeli Embassy personnel (in Colombia) knew Yair Klein was operating in Colombia, but no action was taken against him until after reports of his activities surfaced in the media,” the report alleged.

Klein pleaded guilty and was sentenced Jan. 3 in Jerusalem for having violated export laws by providing training, know-how and weapons without a license to clients in Colombia. He is appealing his one-year sentence, which was suspended, and fines to him and his company totaling $75,000.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy here had no comment on the report, other than to say that it concerned the activities of a private Israeli citizen who had been tried by an Israeli court of law. The Senate report found that training provided by the Israelis and British trainers “was substantial and involved potentially deadly techniques, such as surveillance and ambush and the use of explosives.”

However, unlike the British trainers, who said they were in Colombia “with the intention of conducting paramilitary operations,” the Israelis “deny that they intended to, or ever did, operate as traditional mercenaries,” the report said.

The Israelis have said they were in Colombia to train cattle ranchers to protect themselves from rustlers and leftist guerrillas. But a former Colombian, who is now under the U.S. Marshal’s Service Witness Protection Program, told the subcommittee in 1989 that the ranchers group was controlled by the Medellin cartel.

The Israeli training coincided with the shipment of a large supply of Israeli Galil assault rifles and Uzi submachine guns to the Medellin cartel in 1989. The shipment, originally marked for delivery to the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, was later diverted to Colombia.

Geoffrey Robertson, former counsel of the Antigua Judicial Inquiry Commission, which conducted its own investigation of the affair, testified Feb. 28 that “Klein’s scheme was to obtain modern Israeli weapons for the (Medellin) drug cartel by ‘laundering’ them through a training school set up within the grounds of the Antigun Defense Force.”

The sale to Antigua, made using a forged Israeli export document, included 400 Galils, 100 mini-Uzis, and ammunition and supplies worth nearly $400,000.

At least 175 Galils were found by Colombian police on the property of Medellin kingpin Jose Rodriguez Gacha after he was killed in a December 1989 raid on the cartel.


Financing for the weapons, manufactured by Israel Military Industries, was traced to a November 1988 transfer of $98,131.50 out of Spearheads account in a Panamanian bank, Banco Aleman-Panameno. The funds went, via Philadelphia International Bank and Manufacturers Hanover Trust, to Bank Hapoalim, which then transferred the money to Israel Military Industries.

The rest of the payment, $286,250, followed the same path, starting on Feb. 3, 1989. Also commencing that day was a transfer of $44,000 from Spearheads Panama account through the two U.S. banks to Bank Hapoalim’s Tel Aviv account for Luis Meneses Baez.

“Meneses is a retired Colombian army officer who worked as the liaison between Gacha’s paramilitary force and the foreign mercenaries,” the Senate report said. “While we don’t know for certain the purpose of this payment to Meneses, its timing strongly suggests that it was tied to the arms sale, possibly a commission for arranging the sale.”

Daniel Rinzel, Republican counsel to the subcommittee, said Bank Hapoalim has yet to comply with a subpoena requiring it to release its records on Meneses’ account in Tel Aviv.

Charles Ferris, associate counsel for Bank Hapoalim in New York, said that “under Israeli law, it’s a violation of privacy and in fact secrecy to reveal customer documents and information without the customer’s consent. We were unable, as was the committee, to contact the customer.”

Klein and other Israelis deny they ever met Gacha. But the Colombian now under U.S. protection, Diego Viafara Salinas, told the subcommittee that Gacha met with Spearhead employees “at a place called Fantasy Island.”


In addition, the report said that during their inquiry in Israel, subcommittee staffers “played for the Israeli instructors videotape showing Rodriguez Gacha’s son, Freddy, engaged in drills at their training course.”

At that point, “the Israelis acknowledged instructing a. student named Freddy. Rodriguez but denied knowing he was Rodriguez Gacha’s son,” the report said.

Viafara subsequently told subcommittee staff that Spearhead trainers once saw their trainees guarding “trucks loaded with cocaine.”

“When the instructors inquired about the contents of the trucks, they, were told it was baby formula,” the report said. “But Viafara said it was obvious the Israelis did not believe the explanation.”

At a hearing last week to discuss his staff’s study, Sen. William Roth Jr. (R-Del.), the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, said, “It is not credible to believe that these mercenaries, who included former officers of elite armed forces, could have made repeated trips to Colombia and not known the true identity of their employers.”

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