Colombia Hostage Rescue: The Israeli Angle

Israeli rescuer of 15 hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, calls operation 'Colombian Entebbe.'

Yossi Melman Agencies
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Yossi Melman Agencies

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Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was released after six years in captivity on Wednesday, compared her "impeccable" rescue operation to Israeli commando operations.

Perhaps she did not know it, but Israel indeed contributed to the elaborately-planned, daring rescue mission.

Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002 by Marxist rebels in Colombia (FARC), was rescued without a shot being fired. Colombian military agents, who had penetrated FARC's leadership, instructed her guards to transfer her to another rebel group.

Her captors put her on a helicopter that arrived as scheduled, little knowing that their comrades-in-arms were undercover Colombian soldiers. Betancourt and 14 other hostages who had been held in the jungle, including three Americans, were freed.

Since word of the dramatic rescue spread, speculation in the world media has attributed the success to people trained by Israeli intelligence. But an Israeli figure familiar with the military aid to Colombia said there was "no need to exaggerate" Israel's involvement in the operation.

The Israelis involved in the operation feel it is important to accord the credit to Colombia. The Israeli activity, involving dozens of Israeli security experts, was coordinated by Global CST, owned by former General Staff operations chief, Brigadier General (res.) Israel Ziv, and Brigadier (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser.

"It's a Colombian Entebbe operation," Ziv said Thursday when he returned from Bogota. "Both regarding its national and international importance. Betancourt has become a symbol of the struggle against international terror. This is an amazing operation that wouldn't shame any army or special forces anywhere in the world."

Asked about the Israeli involvement in it Ziv said there is "no need to exaggerate."

"We don't want to take credit for something we didn't do," a company source said. "We helped them prepare themselves to fight terror. We helped them to plan operations and strategies and develop intelligence sources. That's quite a bit, but shouldn't be taken too far."

Israelis may not have taken part in the rescue, but they advised and guided, sold equipment and intelligence technology.

The Israeli involvement began a year and a half ago, when Colombia asked Israel for help in its struggle against FARC, which had become a militia specializing in kidnapping civilians and military figures for ransom and drug trading.

Israel has over the years sold Colombia planes, drones, weapons and intelligence systems. At the Defense Ministry's suggestion, Global CST won the $10 million contract to work with Colombia.

Ziv and Kuperwasser did not take part in the fighting, at the Defense Ministry's instructions. They hired experts who had worked for the Mossad, Shin Bet security service and IDF in various capacities.

"Well I have to say that this operation was exclusively carried out by the Colombian Army," Colombian ambassador to Israel Juan Hurtado Cano said in an interview with Infolive TV, Jerusalem.

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