Nahum Manbar - Alon Ron - October 31 2011
Nahum Manbar leaving Hasharon Prison, October 31, 2011. Photo by Alon Ron
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Nahum Manbar, who was imprisoned for selling information and supplies to Iran to develop chemical weapons, was released yesterday after serving 14 and a half years behind bars.

Manbar, seen as one of Israel's greatest security prisoners, had been sentenced to 16 years in 1997 for harming state security.

Previous requests to commute his sentence were rejected due to the Mossad's objections, although former Military Intelligence head Uri Saguy was among those who recommended Manbar's release.

Manbar, who was born on Kibbutz Givat Haim near Hadera, fled his Israeli creditors to England in 1984 after being indicted for fraud and other charges. He launched various business ventures in London, including selling flowers in Covent Garden. In London he met businesswoman Joy Kiddie, who later turned out to be working for Britain's MI6 intelligence service.

A few years later Manbar moved to Poland where he took advantage of the Soviet bloc's collapse to start arms trading. He forged ties with local businessmen and defense officials, with whom he initiated weapons sales to Iran.

Several Israeli companies were trading with Iran during those years, or involved in deals with Iran with the Defense Ministry's permission. Some of these companies such as Soltam, headed by Brig. Gen. (res.) Uri Simhoni, asked Manbar for help in advancing their business ties with Iran.

Manbar also mediated between the Israeli company Elbit Systems and Iran on a deal to sell Iran equipment for monitoring and detecting chemical warfare substances, but the agreement was not carried out.

The arms deals brought Manbar into contact with senior Iranian officials in charge of Iran's missile and chemical warfare programs. Manbar agreed to supply Iran with more than 120 tons of chemical material that could be used to make chemical weapons. His deals with Iran are said to have earned Manbar tens of millions of dollars.

After several meetings with Iranian officials, mainly in Vienna, Manbar drew the attention of MI6. In the early '90s the Mossad started surveilling Manbar as well.

Manbar told the Shin Bet security service he was trying to get information about missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad, but the security services warned him to break ties with Iran, instructions he failed to heed.

After Manbar's latest request for an early release, security officials said he was no longer a threat to the public.

Manbar was met at the entrance to Hadarim Prison yesterday afternoon by his son, brother and attorney. Accompanied by relatives and friends, Manbar was driven to a Tel Aviv cafe, where they sat and talked.

"He seems well and strong," his brother Zvi said. "We're trying to fill the gaps of the past years. I have no doubt he should have been released after serving two-thirds of his term, but the defense establishment's vindictiveness prevented that."

"He stayed in prison all these years because of an accident in which two Mossad agents were killed," Manbar's attorney Avraham Richtman said. "Manbar committed no criminal offense .... At that time Israel was trading with Iran."

Attorney Amnon Zichroni, who accompanied Manbar when he was arrested, said senior Israeli businesspeople had traded with Iran the same time Manbar did, but were not indicted.