US Homeland Security says Israeli arms dealers have been sending spare military jet parts to Iran in breach of sanctions
Israeli arms dealers twice tried to send spare parts for fighter planes to Iran, The Telegraph has established, flouting an international arms embargo and openly contradicting the bitter enmity between the Jewish state and the Islamic regime.
The illegal shipments are now being investigated by the US Homeland Security Department after they were intercepted by authorities in Greece.
The potentially explosive revelation came as six world powers resumed negotiations with Iran in Vienna aimed at reaching a long-term agreement over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, marked the event with a renewed call for increased pressure on Iran to force it to abandon a programme that Israel regards as a front for building an atomic bomb and a threat to its existence.
Visiting the Golan Heights on Tuesday, he accused Iran of “arming those who are carrying out the slaughter” in neighbouring Syria.
“I would like to tell the world, today, as the talks between the major powers and Iran are being resumed, that Iran has changed neither its aggressive policy nor its brutal character. Iran is continuing to support the Assad regime, which is slaughtering its own people,” Mr Netanyahu said.
But a court in Athens has told The Telegraph that parts appearing on an American list of forbidden military-grade materials had been shipped from Israel on two occasions, apparently destined for Iran.
The seized items comprised spare parts for military aircraft: a constant speed drive designed for the F-4 Phantom jet, and a voltage output sensor used in the F-14 Tomcat.
The parts were confiscated by Greece’s financial crimes squad and were being sent to the US for investigation, court officials said.
The defence and foreign ministries in Israel declined to comment on the seizures, which were first revealed by Kathimerini, a Greek newspaper.
The shipments – one in Dec 2012 and the other last April – were sent by courier from the Israeli town of Binyamina-Givat Ada, near Haifa, via a company in Greece, the newspaper reported.
The firm was later established to be a ghost company. Its contact number was said to belong to a British national in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, who could not be traced.
Israeli media carried only brief versions of the report, suggesting that the matter may be subject to the country’s strict military censorship.
Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper, Alex Fishman, a military-affairs commentator, suggested that the report may have been leaked by US officials as a coded warning to Israel not to try to sabotage the nuclear negotiations with Iran, which were continuing yesterday.
A blogger, Richard Silverstein pointed the finger at two possible culprits who he said were well-known arms dealers living in Binyamina-Givat Ada. The pair had come to the attention of Israeli and US authorities on suspicion of violating the arms embargo on Iran in the past, Silverstein wrote, but had never been charged or prosecuted. “There can be no doubt that they are colluding with Israeli intelligence,” he added.
Previous illicit Israeli arms shipments to Iran have come to the public attention, notably in the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal, when it emerged that Israel was acting as a conduit to send weapons to from the US to Iran in exchange for its help in winning the release of American hostages held in Lebanon.
In 1998, an Israeli court sentenced Nahum Manbar, a businessman and former decorated soldier, to 16 years in prison after he was convicted of secretly selling Iran equipment to make chemical weapons.
Iran’s ageing fleets of up to 75 US-made F-4 Phantoms and 19 F-14 Tomcats were purchased under the Shah, when the country was close to Washington. Israel, once the largest foreign operator of the Phantom, retired its last F-4s in 2004, suggesting that the spare sold may have been second hand. The Pentagon stopped selling spare parts for the F-14 in 2007, fearing that they might end up in Iran, the only country where the F14 is still in operation.
The US later shredded its own fleet to ensure that spare parts could not be acquired. Iran’s need of equipment for its Tomcats was exposed in Jan 2012 when one crashed shortly after take-off, killing both crew members.