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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
October 23

HEADLINE: Court denies Tannenbaum family's plea


The Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted the gag order on the events surrounding Hizbullah's abduction of Elhanan Tannenbaum, including reports that he allegedly traveled to Abu Dhabi to conduct a huge drug deal. The much-anticipated ruling still allows only a part of Tannenbaum's history to be published; the nature of Tannenbaum's position in the army - he is a reserve lieutenant-colonel - and his duties are still banned from publication. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post Wednesday, a senior security source confirmed several critical details concerning Tannenbaum's October 2000 kidnapping - details published in the Post last week.

While an official investigation into the affair has not been launched, a number of facts are clear: Kais Obeid, the scion of a prominent Arab family from Taiba, colluded with Muhammad Biro, a convicted drug dealer and Hizbullah agent imprisoned here, to abduct, then "sell" Tannenbaum. Paid handsomely for his "contribution" to Hizbullah - $150,000 according to Palestinian sources - Obeid lured Tannenbaum to Brussels and from there to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. There he was drugged and bundled off to Lebanon, say senior security sources. He apparently did not go on his own volition, as Hizbullah adamantly claims.

Obeid, who fled Israel for Beirut in September 2000, now serves as Hizbullah's chief "abduction agent," as well as its liaison to terror groups in the West Bank and Gaza.

Channel 2 quoted unnamed police sources implicating Tannenbaum in a number of drug deals in the six months prior to his abduction, but the facts are at best hazy. The International Crimes Unit said Wednesday that Tannenbaum had never been indicted for narcotics trafficking, and could not confirm that Obeid lured him to Abu Dhabi with the prospect of a lucrative drug deal.

The Tannenbaum family railed against the ruling, fearing that any leaked information - even that which may seem innocuous here - could "send him to back to the interrogation room and to the torture chambers."

"There is one important thing that we want to make clear today," said Tannenbaum's daughter Keren, "The question is not if my father should be released, but if my father will be killed.

"Because if - for whatever reason - the Hizbullah prisoner exchange is not carried out, Hizbullah will either kill my father, because it will reach the conclusion he no longer has any value as a bargaining chip, or it will simply let him continue to rot in prison until he dies... Today there is an opportunity to bring him home, an opportunity that may not present itself again."

The prisoner exchange currently being negotiated calls for the release of hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese security prisoners in return for Tannenbaum and the bodies of St.-Sgts. Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Sawayid. The senior military source agreed with Keren Tannenbaum, arguing this opportunity to deal with Hizbullah must be exploited while the channels of negotiation remain open. He noted that while the controversial deal presents a grave "dilemma," the swap should be completed, even if information on missing IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad is excluded.

But various government officials, including ministers, have criticized the exchange, arguing that it will transform Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah "into the terror king of the world," as MK Arye Eldad (National Union) told Channel 1.

Among the prisoners that could be released are Sheikh Omar Karim Obeid - no relation to Kais - and Mustafa Dirani, who captured Arad in 1986 and sold him to Iran 18 months later. Members of Arad's family maintain that the release of Obeid, and particularly Dirani, should be directly linked with the fate of Arad.

The senior security source noted that "from our experience, including Dirani and Obeid in the [prisoner swap] will not gain the freedom of Arad." The two hostage deals should be dealt with separately, he said.

The media lobbied the government and presented their case to the courts. Haaretz and Channel 10 demanded that the ban be lifted to encourage a public debate on the high price of the impending prisoner swap. They also claimed that orderly publication of the facts would quell the vicious rumors surrounding Tannenbaum's "shady business deals," and his involvement with Hizbullah or the Mossad.

Tannenbaum won a measure of success in the army, but struggled to find a foothold in civilian life. He suffered a series of business failures and fell farther into debt due to a reported gambling addiction.

In the late 1990s, he forged ties with several elements of the Israeli and Palestinian underworlds, Obeid among them, and was reportedly warned of these connections in meetings with senior security officials, Channel 2 reported. The IDF denied the claim.

Until the redeployment from the security zone in southern Lebanon in May 2000, Tannenbaum maintained trade links with Lebanon, mainly selling pharmaceuticals.

A short time later, he and Kais Obeid, whose family Tannenbaum had befriended two decades earlier, decided to go into business together. Obeid boasted of his contacts in the Arab world, and Tannenbaum eagerly joined. No one seems to know the nature of the business deal or the "products" being traded.

Obeid's link with Biro, known as the "Middle East drug lord," through his father Hassan Obeid. Hassan, a former deputy mayor of Taiba and the son of an MK, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for smuggling heroin from Lebanon. Hassan met Biro while in prison, sources said.

Apparently Tannenbaum's abduction was partially engineered to gain the release of the ailing Biro, who died in custody a few months ago at 70, Channel 1 reported. Biro's remains are reportedly to be included in the swap, diplomatic sources said.

Tannenbaum then flew to Brussels in early October. There he received forged documents and then flew to Abu Dhabi. It is unclear whether he had originally intended to fly there, or was convinced to go by Obeid. Officers, especially those with high rank and access to classified information, are forbidden to travel to Arab countries.

According to a senior security source, Tannenbaum was drugged and bundled off to Lebanon by Hizbullah agents masquerading as his "business partners." These men were apparently aided by agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Once in Lebanon Tannenbaum was severely tortured during interrogation. Hizbullah had proclaimed that it "caught" a Mossad agent who "walked right in," as Nasrallah put it.

Keren Tannenbaum recalled that her father's last words to her before he left were: "I will take care of myself."

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