UN Probing Suspicions Israel Sold Arms to Ivory Coast

A special delegation of United Nations experts met with representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and defense companies this week to investigate suspicions that Israeli businessmen and companies may have violated the UN Security Council embargo prohibiting arms sales to the Ivory Coast.

This is the first time Israel has cooperated with a panel of this kind.

Several factors have caused the Defense Ministry's present willingness to work with the UN: For more than a year, the Foreign Ministry has demanded that defense export policy take political considerations into account, not just financial rewards.

Also, Israel is currently embroiled in a crisis with the U.S. over arms sales to China, which has led the U.S to demand that Israel increase its defense export regulations.

The strengthening of defense ties between Israel and France has also had an effect. Nine months ago France complained that Israeli arms and equipment had helped the Ivory Coast government attack French peacekeeping forces stationed there. In response, the Defense Ministry forbade defense companies from selling arms to the Ivory Coast.

The UN commission, established after the embargo was declared in November 2004, sent two of its members to Israel this week, as well as to Belarus, Britain, Belgium and other countries where suspicions regarding embargo violations have arisen.

The Defense Ministry also arranged a meeting with Variant, a private company that produces communications and audio surveillance equipment. During the meeting it transpired that Variant had had a supply contract with the Ivory Coast, but that it was never realized and was now being frozen.

Six months ago Haaretz reported that in addition to Variant, arms dealer Hezi Bezalel, businessman and entrepreneur Moshe Rothschild and Aeronautics, a Yavneh-based company, had been involved in sales to the Ivory Coast.

Foreign Ministry sources confirmed that a visit had taken place this week, noting that Israel's willingness to cooperate proves it "has nothing to hide," and that it complies with UN resolutions. The sources also noted that "Israel cannot control every Israeli businessman who travels the world and sells arms that are not Israeli-produced, or are not from IDF surplus."

In a similar case in 1999, a UN panel requested information regarding an arms dealer named Shimon Naor-Hershkowitz, who was suspected of having sold arms to Angola despite the UN embargo. Israel responded that it knew nothing about the man, although several weeks later his name and those of his partners were printed in Haaretz, based on non-classified information available from the Registrar of Companies.