A day after it was released for publication that American-Israeli Ya'acov "Jack" Teitel was arrested early last month by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on suspicion of carrying out a serious of ideologically-motivated terrorist attacks, many people are left wondering how he managed to smuggle into Israel the arsenal he allegedly used to carry out the crimes.
Teitel made aliya from Florida in 2000. New immigrants are eligible to receive duty-free shipments for three years, and many use this benefit to import furniture, appliances and other items to help them build their new lives.
Teitel told police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) that he sent the weapons to Israel in a shipping container after he made aliya, during a period when he was exempt from customs for the shipment.
Moti Eden, a spokesman for the Haifa Port, said that port workers bear no responsibility for checking the contents of shipping containers entering the country. The containers are sealed and employees are forbidden to open or inspect containers during unloading or transit. The responsibility falls on the Israel Tax and Customs Authority, Eden said.
A Tax Authority spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that inspections are performed on a per-case basis. While she wouldn't comment on what percentage of containers entering Israel are subject to checks, the decision to investigate a specific cargo load is made based on the considerations of law enforcement. Not all imports are subject to sweeping inspections, she said.
In the case of olim shipping large containers to Israel, authorities ask the immigrant what they are sending and make a decision whether to search the container based on their own considerations and whether the oleh raises suspicions, the spokeswoman said.
The decision is also based on whether or not there is police or Shin Bet intelligence linked to the sender, and whether or not he fits a profile that would be cause for concern. If the person fits such a profile, the Tax Authority informs the police of the planned shipment.
Teitel first came to the attention of Israeli security services in 1997, when he was arrested by the Shin Bet on suspicion of shooting and killing a Palestinian in the West Bank. He was released and moved back to the States before returning to Israel in 2000 and changing his status to "oleh."
During the time he was in the States before immigrating to Israel, Teitel reportedly had some sort of run-in with law enforcement in Florida and was wanted for questioning. Upon his return to Israel in 2000, he was again arrested, based on intelligence linking him to the 1997 shooting. Teitel was released after police could not find enough clear evidence to tie him to the shooting.
The Tax Authority did not say whether or not a man arrested in connection with a fatal shooting who had been the subject of a Shin Bet investigation would warrant a profile that would require police notification or a strict examination of imports made in his name. The Authority also did not say whether the exemption from duty on the contents of a shipping container would impact authorities' vigilance in searching the shipments.
An Immigrant Absorption Ministry representative declined to comment on the issue Monday, saying the ministry thought the incident did not warrant a statement.