The Israeli government officially has told the United States that it had no involvement with a retired Israeli general and his associates who allegedly conspired to sell $2 billion in U.S. weapons to Iran, the State Department said yesterday.
Israeli press and radio reports Wednesday quoted the general, Avraham Bar-Am, as saying that Israel's defense establishment knew of his actions. Bar-Am reportedly said from Bermuda, where he and two other Israelis are in custody, that he would cooperate with U.S. authorities if his government did not intercede on his be- half.
Asked about the matter yesterday, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said: "The government of Israel has informed us through diplomatic channels and has stated publicly that it had no direct, indirect or tacit connection in this matter and that the individuals acted on their own." Redman added that Israeli authorities had told the United States that they do not intend to take part in the investiga- tion.
The Israeli defense and foreign ministries issued a joint statement Wednesday disclaiming involvement and indicating that they will not assist the three Israelis arrested in Bermu- da.
The three were among 17 people, including American and West German nationals, charged by federal prosecutors in New York with allegedly trying to smuggle U.S.-made F4 and F5 jet fighters and Israeli-made air-to-air Python missiles to Iran through third countries.
Bar-Am retired from the Israeli army in 1984 amid allegations of improper conduct including distribution of weapons to friends. He has told Israeli radio that he has a letter from Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin authorizing him to engage in arms sales but not specifically permitting sales to Iran. Israel has long sought to defray the costs of its sizable domestic arms industry by developing markets in other countries for Israeli-made weapons and surplus American equipment.
As a result, many retired Israeli officers have sought to capitalize on their experience and contacts by acting as free-lance agents for such sales, and many routinely obtain the kind of authorization that apparently was given to Bar-Am.
Israel is known to have sold airplane tires and other spare parts to Iran after the Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1979 as a means of keeping Iraq tied up militarily and winning protection for those Jews still in Iran.
However, it is understood to have stopped that practice under pressure from the United States, and State Department officials said privately yesterday that they were unaware of any continuing Israeli sales to Iran.