Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: Tannenbaum lured to Abu Dhabi, drugged, shipped to Lebanon
BYLINE: MATTHEW GUTMAN
Retired Col. Elhanan Tannenbaum, who has been missing for three years, was delivered into the hands of Hizbullah in October 2000 by an Israeli Arab masquerading as a business partner, according to newly released material.
Heavily in debt and subject to underworld threats, Tannenbaum was lured to Abu Dhabi under pretense of a lucrative business deal by Kais Obeid, formerly of the Israeli village of Taiba and intimately tied to the Lebanese Guerrilla group, acording to reports Wednesday.
The details of Tannenbaum's capture are being widely reported today in the wake of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision this morning to reject the Tannenbaum family's appeal against a ruling that lifted a gag order on the events leading to Hizbullah's abduction of Tannenbaum three years ago.
Channel Two television reported Wednesday night that Police have evidence linking Tannenbaum to drug trafficking schemes, and that his planned business trip to Europe and Abu Dhabi may have been drug-related.
Tannenbaum's children vehemently rejected the Channel 2 report. Tannenbaum's son Ron said his father had absolutely no connection to drugs.
Channel One TV, quoting a senior security source, reported that Iran had a hand in Tannenbaum's kidnap, assisting Hizbullah agents hide their Israeli hostage in a safe-house in Abu Dhabi and then, according to the TV report, provide the Lebanese agents with a jet to transport Tannenbaum to Lebanon via Iran.
Other reports say Iranian intelligence agents interrogated the Israeli artillery officer while he was in Abu Dhabi. Ynet reported that after he was interrogated, the Iranians drugged Tannenbaum, put him in a container, and shipped him to Beirut via Iranian diplomatic mail.
Following the ruling, police, backed by the Shin Bet, petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court for permission to release details of allegations against Obeid's two brothers and sister. The three, members of the wealthy Obeid family with whom Tannenbaum forged a close relationship, were arrested and interrogated a year after Tannenbaum's abduction in connection with security offenses. The siblings denied knowledge of the affair, and were frobidden to contact their brother, who had since escaped to Lebanon. A gag had been placed on that affair, which police now want to lift.
The court ruled on an appeal by the Tannebaum family against Tel Aviv District Court's October 9 decision to lift the gag order, largely due to testimony by defense officials that the information would not harm the state. The appeal was heard behind closed doors before a panel of three justices headed by Theodore Or.
In the years since Tannenbaum's abduction, gag orders have prevented publication of the affair's details. Haaretz, later joined by Channel 10, petitioned the court to allow the media to publicize the reasons why Tannenbaum went to Lebanon.
The petitioners had previously stated they would refrain from disclosing details of Tannenbaum's military past or private life if allowed to publish the sensitive information.
The Tannenbaum family had hinted in the past their father's contribution to the state could be used against him by Hizbullah. They were due to react to the court's ruling at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The petition serves as the spearhead for a varied group of individuals and organizations, including the media, the family of missing navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad and several ministers, clamoring for some light to be shed on Tannenbaum's kidnapping.
Despite the court's ruling, however, many details about the affair are still unknown, neither to the police and Shin Bet security service, nor to the media. This is because Obeid managed to escape to Lebanon where he is serving as a "kidnap officer" and "adviser on Israel affairs," to Hizbullah. Qayid Byro is also believed to be in Lebanon, fearing that Israel will target him.
The abduction: A sting operation
A top security official, speaking on conditions of anonymity, confirmed Tannenbaum arrived in Abu Dhabi of his own volition and was drugged and shipped unconscious to Lebanon by clandestine Hizbullah agents. "Whether or not Tannenbaum was a criminal," the source said, "we will have to find out when he comes home."
The source claimed most of the multiple media reports published Wednesday to be inaccurate.
Elhanan Tannenbaum was born in Holon, in the center of the country, in 1946. He served in the IDF's artillery division and left the IDF after the 1973 Yom Kippur War with the rank of colonel. During his service he was exposed to classified military information.
According to various news sources, Tannenbaum attempted to launch business enterprises abroad, but with little success. His main import-export ties, with Lebanese businessman, were severed by the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Reports claim he began gambling in the casino in Jericho, lost a great deal of money and sank deep into debt.
Desperate to escape black-market threats, Tannenbaum was tempted by his longtime friend Kais Obeid into a 'shady' business deal in the Arab world said to be worth hundred of thousands of dollars.
Obeid, 30, the grandson of Diab Obeid, who served as a Labor MK from 1961 to 1973, is a member of one of Taiba's wealthiest families. His father and two brothers were arrested during the 1980s and sentenced to 10 years in prison for smuggling of amounts of heroin from Lebanon.
Obeid fled Israel in September 2000 and later resurfaced in Beirut as a close adviser to Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah. In this role, he also served as a liaison between Hizbullah and the Fatah-related Tanzim/Aksa Martyrs Brigades, anchored Hizbullah's financial connections in the territories and headed its efforts to recruit Israeli Arabs for various terrorist activities, including the abduction of Israelis.
Obeid met Tannenbaum in Brussels, where he told him he would need fly to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to smooth out certain kinks in the deal, according to reports.
Once in Abu Dhabi, Tannenbaum was drugged and shipped unconscious to Lebanon by clandestine Hizbullah agents.
Nasrallah has maintained from the beginning of the Tannenbaum saga that he arrived in Beirut of his own volition.
By law, Israelis are forbidden to travel to Lebanon, a state with which the country technically is at war.
The business deal Tannenbaum sought to conclude remains shrouded in conflicting stories - some involve drug smuggling, others suggest he sought to open a channel for the trade of a wide array of goods.
Before the May 2000 IDF redeployment from the security zone in southern Lebanon, Tannenbaum had apparently sold his Lebanese contacts powdered milk for babies and pharmaceuticals, according to an intelligence source.
According to sources close to the unnamed Israeli Arab's family, the man's motives for handing Tannenbaum over to Hizbullah were primarily financial, as were his efforts to abduct other Israelis and to smuggle weapons into Israel. Several members of the family were arrested for smuggling drugs from Lebanon.
This information came shortly after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told The Jerusalem Post that Tannenbaum would be punished in Israel if he did something illegal.
This discussion of the Tannenbaum saga come as the government is engaged in the final stages of negotiations with Hizbullah over a prisoner swap. Israel is to exchange more than 400 Lebanese, Palestinian, and other Arab prisoners for Tannenbaum and the remains of St.-Sgts. Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Sawayid.
The Kais Obeid connection
As the scion of a well established Israeli Arab family, Kais Obeid forged close ties with the leaders of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's personal bodyguard unit, Force 17. In 1996, he was charged with complicity in the sale of weapons and ammunition to Palestinian terrorists.
According to Palestinian sources, Obeid has maintained his close contact with Arafat and his confidants.
The Shin Bet has intermittently detained as many as six members of the Obeid family for suspected links to Hizbullah and in an effort to gain information on Kais, who fled to Lebanon with his wife and three children in September 2000.
Intelligence sources say Hizbullah and its patron, Iran, are attempting to establish a wide network of Israeli Arab spies and terrorists, Ma'ariv has reported.
As part of this program, Hizbullah established a special abduction unit following the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon. The unit, which included Israeli Arabs, was handed a "hit list" of some 20 Israelis targeted for abduction. Among them was former energy minister Gonen Segev.
Despite the Shin Bet's efforts to uncover Obeid's network in Israel, the Hizbullah agent has remained active. Last year he contacted a group of Israeli entrepreneurs and offered them a partnership in a business venture, Army Radio reported.
Obeid planned to kidnap the Israelis on business trips in Europe, a pattern similar to the Tannenbaum abduction.
The Army Radio report also said Obeid may have planned to kidnap Israelis near the Lebanese border and recruited Israeli Arabs to assist him.
Iran and Hizbullah have played a major role in recruiting Israeli Arabs to smuggle weapons from Lebanon to the territories. Using Israeli Arab proxies has long been favored by Hizbullah as an alternative to employing Palestinians.
Since the start of the violence, Hizbullah has funneled millions of dollars to terrorists in Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, and Ramallah through the Syrian national banking system. From there, the money was wired to terrorists' accounts in local branches of the Arab Bank, according to a report obtained last week by the Jerusalem Post.
Intelligence sources say it would be foolish to underestimate Hizbullah and its highly effective intelligence arm, which has an unusual grasp of the Israeli political and military landscape. Part of this is due to Israeli Arab collaboration, they say.
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