An internal South African labor dispute has mushroomed into allegations that El Al Israel Airlines is employing undercover Mossad agents in its South African operations.
The matter began a few weeks ago, when, after being dismissed, allegedly for leading a campaign on behalf of two other employees for better medical benefits and higher pay, a local El Al employee appeared on the country's leading television investigative program, Carte Blanche. There, Jonathan Garb claimed his former employer was a front for Israeli clandestine operations in the country. He also alleged the airline treated its passengers badly, conducted lengthy baggage searches, issued threats and practiced racial profiling.
El Al refused to comment on the Mossad allegations but has insisted its security regulations are of the highest standard. The Israeli Embassy rejected the claims.
"For understandable and obvious reasons, the embassy does not provide details relating to security arrangements and procedures," Israeli Ambassador Dov Segev Steinberg said.
"All security arrangements related to Israeli institutions in South Africa are, however, coordinated with the relevant authorities in full transparency and in full conformity."
The country's media picked up on the story and The Star, the leading Johannesburg daily, blazed across its billboard: "Israeli airline a front for spooks, trio allege."
While leaders of the South African Jewish community refuse to comment on the story, calling it an internal labor dispute, local Jews are angry and in letters to the press speculate why Garb, who worked for El Al for 19 years, waited so long before going public with his claims.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a research associate of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan who spent 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence, warned against the personal vendettas of fired employees. He said it was highly unlikely the Mossad would hide its agents in El Al.
"The officers of El Al are steady targets; they are like deer in the wild who don't move when shot at. Anyone can locate El Al officers, see where they are, and blow up their offices. If the Mossad were going to hire people, it would hire people who are on the move all the time and difficult to locate.
"Regarding racial profiling: You should ask the same questions about American and Canadian airlines, which are much worse than El Al. Profiling today is well-known in airports around the world. What's more, if people who would normally be prevented from boarding a plane come to Israel, in many cases they will be denied entry at Ben-Gurion. So why let them leave South Africa in the first place only to be refused entry in Israel?"
The allegations have been investigated by a private security company that has just released its findings, which support Garb's claims. They have been referred to the South African Foreign Ministry and National Intelligence.