- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

JERUSALEM — Interrogators are trying to determine whether Israeli Reserve Col. Elhanan Tennenbaum, who was freed by Hezbollah last month in a prisoner exchange, was working for Hezbollah before his disappearance.

Col. Tennenbaum, who was held in Lebanon for three years after mysteriously disappearing, admitted over the weekend to Israeli interrogators that he had gone to Dubai to execute a drug deal.

This had long been hinted at in the Israeli press, but for the first time it was reported that Col. Tennenbaum had been privy to highly secret military information about something the newspaper Ha’aretz described as a “special project.”

Israeli authorities, who have kept Col. Tennenbaum in detention since his return, want to know what he told his Hezbollah interrogators about that project. Hezbollah is a militant Islamic group based in Lebanon.

In an unusual deal cut Friday with Col. Tennenbaum’s attorney, the authorities agreed not to press charges against the colonel if his testimony is supported by a polygraph test — and provided he was not already acting as a Hezbollah agent before his trip abroad.

“We assume Tennenbaum disclosed information about his military service while in captivity,” said a source quoted by Ha’aretz, which has been following the case, “including details about the certain project. Prisoners talk in captivity, and that’s no crime.

“What interests the Israel Defense Forces is whether he began to gather military information before he left, intending to sell it to Hezbollah.”

The military’s suspicions stem from Col. Tennenbaum’s close business relations with an Israeli Arab, Keis Obeid, who at some point became a Hezbollah agent before fleeing to Lebanon, and from Col. Tennenbaum’s financial problems, apparently resulting from gambling losses.

Col. Tennenbaum has testified that three years ago he flew from Israel to Belgium, where Mr. Obeid gave him a false passport in order to fly to Dubai.

In that Gulf state, Col. Tennenbaum said, he was assaulted and drugged when he went to a villa to discuss a drug deal. When he regained consciousness, he said, he was in Lebanon, apparently having been transported in a trunk.

Israeli interrogators want to know whether that story is true or whether he flew willingly to Lebanon, but they are most interested in what he told Hezbollah.

Col. Tennenbaum has said he revealed insignificant information about his military background, including the fact that he commanded an artillery brigade that shelled Beirut during the 1982 Lebanese war.

He has denied giving information about “the project,” Ha’aretz said. He said he was not tortured but that he was aggressively interrogated for four months.

If the polygraph tests support Col. Tennenbaum’s testimony, officials said over the weekend, his incarceration in Lebanon will be reckoned as sufficient punishment for the crimes to which he has admitted: involvement in a drug deal and flying to an Arab country without permission.

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