Drug dealers got surveillance helicopters sold by Israel

Thursday, April 15, 2004

TEL AVIV Israel has acknowledged that U.S.-origin military helicopters were sold to Colombia and might have landed in the hands of drug dealers.

Israeli officials said five MD-500 surveillance helicopters were sold by the Defense Ministry and ended up in the hands of a Colombian national. The helicopters were not transferred to the authorized end-user, they said.

The MD-500 helicopters were transferred from U.S. Air Force surplus to Israel as part of Washington's military aid to the Jewish state, Middle East Newsline reported. From there, Israel's Defense Ministry sold the aircraft to the private firm, Globus Aviation.

Officials said the end-user for the MD-500 was to have been either authorities in Mexico or Spain. The MD-500 was manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing.

Instead, the end-user was identified as Aviel, a private firm from Colombia. Officials confirmed that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has called for an Israeli investigation.

Officials had no information on Aviel. But they said the helicopters might have been transferred or leased to drug dealers or related criminal activities in Colombia.

Israeli nationals have been linked to the transfer of weapons and military platforms to criminal activities in South America. In August 2003, three Israeli nationals were ordered arrested by Guatemala for the alleged sale of weapons to Colombian paramilitary groups.

In an unrelated development, Israel's Defense Ministry has agreed to delay the delivery of U.S.-built armored Humvee military vehicles for the Israeli military. The ministry agreed to a U.S. request that the vehicles would be instead delivered to the U.S. military in Iraq.

Israel had ordered 120 Humvee vehicles from the United States with an option for additional 100 in a deal to have been financed by military aid from Washington. The first batch of 37 armored jeeps were to have been delivered over the next week and deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Under U.S. law, the United States has the right to expropriate its foreign military exports for U.S. military use. Until a year ago, Israel's Plasan Sasa had produced the armored jeeps, but the Defense Ministry began ordering them from the United States amid an Israeli government decision to sharply reduce the defense budget.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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