Israel imports tens of thousands of heads of beef from Australia every year. Before the cattle are shipped to Israel, where they are fattened up for a few months before being turned into steaks, they are supposed to pass various veterinary checks.

Haaretz has learned that for at least two years earlier this decade, due to fraud by Australian exporters, the steers did not undergo all the tests for diseases that the Veterinary Services requires.

When the affair was exposed four years ago, Australian cattle imports were halted for a few months. They only resumed after the Veterinary Services conducted an internal investigation into the problem, and the Australians committed to meeting Israeli requirements. However, the Agriculture Ministry did not publicize the matter.

About 12 years ago, Israeli businessmen started importing Australian cattle to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The steers spend 16 days at sea. Originally, the cattle landed in the Jordanian port of Aqaba and were transported to Israel; since 2004 they have been arriving in Eilat.

The Australians have always had to give the animals tests and inoculations before they are shipped, said Moshe Chaimovitz, Veterinary Services director. If the animals test positive for various illnesses, they are not supposed to be shipped.

All cattle more than 4 months old are supposed to be tested for the sexually transmitted diseases trichimoniasis and campylobacteriosis. They were eradicated in Israel decades ago, and can cause fertility problems and spontaneous abortions in cows.

Chaimovitz says that when he started as director, he asked the Australian authorities for data on cattle rejected for export to Israel due to these diseases.

"The Australians were somewhat surprised and wondered why I asked," said Chaimovitz. "To my surprise, I was told that none of the cattle sent here were checked for sexually transmitted diseases, even though they were declared as tested."

Chaimovitz explained: "There was some sort of fraud. The Israeli importers paid for the tests, but it turns out they were simply never conducted. They said the cattle were younger than four months."

A further inquiry revealed that the Australians failed to conduct other required tests as well; fortunately, these diseases do not endanger humans. Chaimovitz immediately halted the cattle imports.

Chaimovitz confirmed that the affair had been kept secret, and that an internal investigation was conducted.

"Since then, the Australians know they can't mess with me," said Chaimovitz.

The Agriculture Ministry also confirmed the report.