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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
September 28

HEADLINE: Iran wants envoy in Hizbullah swap


Iran on Sunday accused Israel of engineering Britain's arrest of a former Iranian diplomat, believed to be connected to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, in order to gain bargaining chips for a possible prisoner swap.

The swap, in which Israel would trade senior Lebanese detainees, Palestinians, and other Arabs in exchange for the release of Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three kidnapped soldiers, Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid, and Adi Avitan, among others, is currently being negotiated with Hizbullah representatives.

On Friday Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the general secretary of Hizbullah met with Islamic Jihad leaders in Beirut. On Saturday he met head of the Hamas politburo Khaled Mashal. Apparently Nasrallah and his Islamic Jihad and Hamas counterparts discussed the list of prisoners which could be attached to the deal.

Iran's former ambassador to Argentina, Hadi Soleimanpour, was arrested in Britain last August in connection with the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires which left 85 people dead.

Referring to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement Thursday night that Israel might posses certain bargaining chips in Europe, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said that the "Zionist regime's behavior, saying they are ready to swap him for some Israelis, completely proves Israel was behind [the arrest]," Reuters reported.

While conspiracy theories continue to swirl round the unsolved AMIA blast, Israel holds Hizbullah, in collusion with Iran, responsible. In his TV interview Sharon also hinted that Israel seeks to cash in on the bargaining chips located in a "European state," for information regarding missing IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad.

Sharon's reference to assets "in Europe" likely refers to Soleimanpour, but could also include Iranians serving life sentences in Germany for killing four Kurdish dissidents in 1992. Germany, whose chief security man Ernst Urlau is mediating negotiations between Israel and Hizbullah, stated that the order for hits on the Kurds came from Teheran.

This weekend saw more personalities involved in talks related to what Hizbullah sources have been saying is the imminent hostage swap. Hizbullah has sent aid to the Islamic Jihad and the Aksa Martyrs Brigades as well as liaisons to promote terrorist operations, both Israeli and Palestinian sources say.

In an effort to glean support among Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon Hizbullah has been reporting for weeks that as many as 400 Palestinian prisoners, though likely around 200, could be included in the deal. Israel has refused to corroborate the figures, though it has denied that Tanzim boss Marwan Barghouti will be included.

According to other Palestinians sources, the Palestinians, not only Hizbullah, but Fatah members, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are in close contact with Hizbullah in drawing up the prisoner lists. The contacts have been ongoing for several months.

Israel has been pressured to widen the negotiations to include Arad, captured by Lebanese detainee and Amal leader Mustafa Dirani in Lebanon in 1986. According to Dirani, he "sold" Arad to Iran in the late 1980s, but Israel has had little concrete information regarding the missing navigator since 1987.

Adding to the turbulence in Israel over the prisoner swap are moral and ethical questions tied to the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, some of whom, Hizbullah says, have been involved in terrorist activity. Furthermore, intense debates have swirled in the security establishment regarding the swap for Tannenbaum, who a senior security source called, "no saint," Ma'ariv reported.

Tannenbaum was abducted by Hizbullah in unknown circumstances while doing business in Dubai in October 2000, a source close to the case told The Jerusalem Post. Much of the information regarding Tannenbaum's location and business deals before the kidnapping is censored.

However the Arad family, which last week filed a NIS 100 million claim against Dirani, is to receive a boon by the end of this week. On Friday the government told the High Court of Justice that it will present a copy of the Winograd Report to the family of MIA Ron Arad. The state's declaration came in response to a petition by the family demanding to see the report a comprehensive study of the possible fate of Arad before any prisoner exchange takes place with Hizbullah.

The Arad family has demanded that Dirani's released be linked directly to the fate of the missing navigator. Their position was strengthened by leaks from the report indicating that there is a possibility that Arad may be alive.

Sensitive security information will, however, be censored from the report.

The report was handed to the army several weeks ago. Ron Arad's wife, daughter and brothers petitioned the High Court last week, demanding to read the document and asking for an interim injunction prohibiting the government from going through with the prisoner exchange before they are given a copy.

The state's representative Attorney Shai Nitzan wrote Friday that in a recent meeting with the Arad family, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had promised to show them the report as soon as army security had approved it. Nitzan added Sharon was prepared to meet the Arad family again before the government makes an official decision regarding the prisoner exchange.

Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.

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