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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
January 27

HEADLINE: Tannenbaum to face difficult homecoming


The 23 Lebanese militants to be released from Israeli prisons on Thursday are expected to walk out of German transport planes in Beirut as free citizens and be received by a throng of some 100,000 rejoicing countrymen.

For Elhanan Tannenbaum, it will be quite a different homecoming. On Thursday evening, he will step off an Israeli military plane after three and a half years of brutal Hizbullah captivity and pass from the arms of family members into the custody of Israeli interrogators. After a checkup and possibly a hospital stay, a trial is likely to follow.

For Tannenbaum - a man dubbed a criminal, even a traitor, by security and government officials alike - and three other soldiers, Israel gave up 400 Palestinian militants, spies and bomb-makers among them, 36 Arabs from countries as far as Libya, the remains of 59 Hizbullah fighters, maps of minefields in southern Lebanon, and more.

"It will be absurd if he is not brought to justice. There are more than enough witnesses and more than enough evidence," one influential government official told The Jerusalem Post Monday night on condition of anonymity.

Tannenbaum's rap sheet remains shrouded in mystery. Whatever his crime - which could rage from treason to consorting with a foreign agent to peddling illegal products - it might warrant a trial, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Post last October.

"If it becomes clear that he did something illegal, he will be punished here. We cannot let Hizbullah act as our representative to punish him," said Sharon, who has doggedly supported the swap despite its unpopularity.

Rumors that Tannenbaum was conducting dubious business deals with certain Arab states when abducted by Hizbullah fueled an outcry against the prisoner swap in November and could mar his homecoming.

The Shin Bet, Mossad, military intelligence, police, and others all want a crack at Tannenbaum.

"I doubt there will be too much mercy on him once he gets back," said the official, who refused to divulge the exact nature of Tannenbaum's alleged crime.

Just two months ago, Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, sharply criticized the deal and Tannenbaum himself, whom he presented as a monster. "Let's assume that an Israeli was arrested in Thailand because he raped and killed 20 young women, and he tortured them. This is the severity of [his] crime," he told the Post.

Still, no government officials are willing to confirm or deny reports of Tannenbaum's wrongdoing. What is known is that Tannenbaum fell in with the covert head of Hizbullah's operations in Israel, who then lured him on a business deal first to Brussels and later to Abu Dhabi. The man, Kais Obeid, was the scion of a powerful Arab-Israeli family and had deep connections with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Force 17 bodyguard unit.

Once in Abu Dhabi, Tannenbaum was likely abducted by Iranian Revolutionary guards and interrogated. Up until he left Israel for Brussels on October 3, 2000, Tannenbaum had worked as a consultant for a major arms firm, one which deals with the Defense Ministry's most sensitive technologies, a source in the company said Thursday. He said that he saw Tannenbaum at the Holon-based company about twice a week.

The firm's records were destroyed in a fire that gutted its basement in July 2001, and the company's security officer, Shmuel Melekh, would only say the firm had "outsourced him for a number of contracts."

Unlike the other families, the Tannenbaums have refused media interviews almost entirely.

They have maintained, however, that Elhanan served his country more than anyone imagines and more than they can publicly say.

"He will get off the plane. The family will hug him. And those in the security services who have to do their work, will do it," said Roi Belcher, the Tannenbaum family lawyer.

While Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah seemed unwilling to indicate whether any of the Israelis are alive or dead, Israeli intelligence believes that Tannenbaum is still alive and in reasonable condition.

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