The Israeli Kibbutznik Who Dealt Weapons to Iran

Some say his involvement with the Mossad was an alibi to his otherwise unauthorized links to Iran, but eventually it was Nahum Manbar's ties with Israel's security forces that had him sentenced to 16 years behind bars.

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Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman

The parole board decided Monday to approve the premature release of Nahum Manbar, who is considered to be one of the most serious security criminals in Israel. At 2 P.M., after 14 and a half years behind bars, Manbar walked out of Hadarim Prison a free man.

Manbar grew up at Kibbutz Givat Haim, near Hadera. He played in Israel's under-18 national basketball team. He served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces and aspired to be a great businessman. After leaving the kibbutz, he opened and closed businesses, went bankrupt, and escaped his creditors by fleeing to England. There he explored various business ventures until the falling of the communist regime in Poland presented him with a new opportunity.

Nahum Manbar, before his jail sentence.Credit: Moti Kimche

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He moved to Warsaw, where he began making connections with businessmen and officials at the ministry of defense, and together they began initiating business deals with Iran, including the sales of Polish tanks to Tehran. At the time, the Ayatollah regime sought to replenish its stock of weapons, which had diminished during the Iran-Iraq war. During that time other Israeli organizations had conducted business dealings with Iran with the Defense Ministry's approval.

During his business dealings, Manbar made numerous contacts in Iran. Dr. Majid Abasfur, who headed the Iranian defense ministry's chemical weapons initiative, was one of those contacts with whom Manbar held meetings.

After one of those meetings, members of the Mossad followed Abasfur on motorbikes and were killed in a road accident. The death of these agents on a mission connected to Manbar added to the grudge held by the Israeli security forces against him. Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit maintained a particular grudge. Eventually, Shavit stood in court against Manbar and later on strongly opposed the convicted prisoner's early release.

In his dealings with Iran, Manbar signed an agreement to supply Tehran with tones of materials to be used for its chemical weapon industry. At some point in time, Manbar contacted the Shin Bet and agreed to act as a collaborator to help find out what had become of Ron Arad. Among other things, he passed on information and videos that turned out to be fabricated.

Eventually the Defense Ministry would say his cooperation with the Shin Bet was an alibi to his otherwise unauthorized links with Iran. At some point he agreed to provide all the contracts he had signed with the Iranians to the Shin Bet, who promised it would never be used against him. "We don't bite the hand that feeds us," the junior Shin Bet handler had told him. But the courts rejected that claim, saying the agent did not have the authority to make such a promise.

During his trial, this issue arose as to whether Iran was an enemy state. Shavit was among those who argued it was an enemy state, while Manbar's lawyer quoted words of former foreign minister David Levy, saying it was not an enemy state.

Differences of opinion emerged between Manbar and his lawyer, Amnon Zichroni, and later with his second lawyer and fellow IDF paratrooper, Avi Richtman. During his trial Manbar also divorced his French wife, who he had assisted in revealing information she had on her previous husband's dealings with the Argentine-Egyptian-Iraqi Condor Plan missile program, to the Mossad.

Throughout his imprisonment, Manbar claimed his sentence was disproportionate, and that he was the target of an act of revenge of Israel's security forces. Notably, throughout his trial Manbar's lawyer Amnon Zichroni rejected the option of a plea bargain on the condition that his punishment would be 10 years. Manbar was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: מנבר השתחרר: הקיבוצניק שסחר עם האייתוללות



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