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(photo credit: Channel 2)
Lt.-Col. Omar el-Hayeb, a senior Beduin military officer, was sentenced Sunday by a special military court to 15 years in prison for spying on Israel on Hizbullah's behalf.
El-Hayeb, who was arrested in October 2002, was convicted of espionage, contact with a foreign agent and drug dealing but was acquitted of a charge of treason.
El-Hayeb, 43, denied spying for Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon, and accused the military court in Tel Aviv of racism after the sentence was handed down.
"I didn't confess, I won't confess," el-Hayeb told reporters. "I didn't do anything. The only reason they are coming after me is because I am an Arab."
One of his attorneys, Barry Rosenthal, said his client would appeal the conviction and sentence.
From the village of Beit Zarzir in the North, el- Hayeb, 43, served in the IDF's Northern Command and was responsible for the recruitment of Beduin soldiers. He was seriously wounded and lost an eye during clashes with Hizbullah terrorists in 1996, but after three years of recovery he returned to service and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In addition to his prison sentence, el-Hayeb was immediately banished from the IDF.
According to the indictment, el-Hayeb held contacts with foreign Lebanese agents from 2002 on dozens of occasions. The prosecution claimed he transferred sensitive information regarding the movements and security surrounding then-OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi to Lebanon, in addition to tank movements along the border as well as other military secrets.
In exchange, el-Hayeb received cash payments as well as dozens of kilograms of heroin and hashish.
Following his conviction, el-Hayeb told reporters that he was innocent and had never spoken with Hizbullah. 'This was not justice,' he said.
'There is only one truth and I will fight for it until the end. I was wounded several years ago in a Hizbullah attack. Why would I now suddenly begin to help them?"
News of el-Hayeb's indictment in 2002 sent ripples throughout the top IDF brass, prompting then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon to issue a statement describing the affair as an isolated incident that did not represent the Beduin community, which he said had served the state faithfully and courageously.