Mention EL AL and O.R. Tambo in a single sentence and you are likely to conjure up images of a spooky environment. Perhaps more damning for South Africa, EL AL and Oliver R. Tambo may also symbolize the shaky grounds of a legacy inherited from the ghostly past of apartheid.
EL AL is Israel’s national airline; Oliver R. Tambo is South Africa’s international airport in Johannesburg, previously known as “Jan Smuts”. It is here that until recently most people in Nelson Mandela’s beloved “Rainbow” country remained blissfully ignorant of the cloak and dagger operations being carried out under the guise of “security”. It took a team of courageous investigative journalists from Carte Blanche to finally lift the veil that hid from public scrutiny acts of brazen violations by a foreign country with scant regard for the host country’s sovereignty!
“This here is a secret service operating above the law in South Africa,” said Jonathan Garb, a former employee of EL AL. He told Carte Blanche how EL AL security employees were part of the clandestineIsraeli Security Agency operating at O. R. Tambo International Airport in breach of South African laws and the constitution. Garb, who says he was trained by the Israeli Special Forces, also revealed that non-Jewish passengers, specifically “blacks” and Muslims were profiled and given a tougher time by Israeli foreign agents known as Shin Bet. “We pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. We do exactly as we want — the local authorities do not know what we are doing.”
Did the local authorities not know this? According to Carte Blanche’s Bongani Bingwa, following their shocking exposure there seemed to be a deafening silence from the South African authorities, until it became clear “they had been investigating our allegations and had found that everything we had reported was true.” It is incredible that local authorities were unaware that Israeli Shin Bet agents were posing an enormous threat to South Africa’s national security at a key point. The department of International Relations’ Saul Molobi made this admission when he complimented Carte Blanche for their investigation. “I think that came in handy for the country and for the national security of our state,” he said.
The most troubling aspect of the investigation revealed that Israeli agents were carrying diplomatic passports and weapons licensed to the Israeli embassy. These facts encapsulate a key question that South African authorities have thus far failed to answer: Why did a foreign intelligence agency operate with such impunity on sovereign soil?
Additional questions that beg answers are how long has this been going on and did it arise from any secret agreement that the Israeli regime claims in its defense of these blatant violations? If so, was any dubious “agreement” struck between Israel and South Africa in the post-apartheid era (1994)? Or are the Israelis relying on questionable shady deals reminiscent of a host of immoral ties between them and theApartheid regime?
Equally intriguing is the current “behind-the-scenes” negotiations that in the absence of transparency have the potential to fuel speculation about what indeed is being “covered up”! South African authorities are tight-lipped while the Israelis have publically demanded that the security status quo remain unchanged, thus allowing them to have their intelligence agents masquerade as EL AL employees, with full diplomatic immunity.
A follow up report by Carte Blanche has revealed that EL AL was given until the end of February to “clean up their act” but this deadline has passed without comment from the South African authorities. Shin Bet is still sending agents to head up EL AL security. Avi Katz whose history shows he was involved in clandestine intelligence operations, counter terrorism and counter espionage activities, is the current security manager at EL AL.
Reliable sources point to the threat of closure of EL AL’s South African route as a core issue that has bedeviled the current stand off between the two countries. In January, EL AL warned the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that the route would close if their staff were not provided diplomatic passports. What it implies is that Israel requires South Africa to abandon or violate the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic protocol. If South Africa accedes to these demands by allowing armed foreign agents access to diplomatic immunity and permits them to operate at O.R. Tambo International Airport in violation of its own constitution and international laws, EL AL will continue to operate on this route.
Until South African authorities reveal full details of the negotiations and its outcome it appears that at O.R. Tambo, it will be business as usual for EL AL.
Iqbal Jassat is Chairman Media Review Network in South Africa