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(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
Elhanan Tannenbaum, the Israeli businessman and former IDF colonel who was abducted by Hizbullah and released as part of a prisoner exchange in January 2004, admitted on Wednesday that he had left Israel and entered Lebanon to carry out a drug deal due to financial difficulties.
Tannenbaum was testifying before the Tel Aviv District Court in the case of two men charged with tax fraud, including Ori Rash, who was Tannenbaum's partner in several companies and is charged with importing hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of goods into Israel without paying taxes.
"I am allowed to tell people that if they import a washing machine, there is no tax on it, and therefore they will not go through an intense tax inspection. This is an example of my abilities. My task was just to explain what the Israeli tax procedures were," he said.
The drug angle came out during Tannenbaum's cross-examination by the defense, who apparently grilled him on the subject in the interests of discrediting him as a state witness for the prosecution.
Tannenbaum said that he had given security forces all the information about his criminal activities before signing the document that granted him immunity, but that he had left out the details of the drug deal.
"I thought it was very appropriate that I stand trial. I did not tell my interrogators everything. I didn't tell them about the drug deal. I thought I would stand trial for identity fraud and entering an enemy country. I did not reveal everything initially because I was not in a fit mental state. It took me a few weeks to regain my composure," he said.
Tannenbaum told the court that the man who had proposed the drug deal was Kais Obeid, an Israeli-Arab fugitive who had fled to Lebanon and whom Tannenbaum had known "since I was a baby."
Tannenbaum, a former high-ranking artillery officer, was deep in debt when he used a foreign passport to travel to Lebanon - an illegal act for an Israeli because of Lebanon's status as an enemy country.
The Israeli businessman, however, said that he had left Israel with his own passport and identity card and only once he arrived in Lebanon he used an assumed identity.
He said that he was unaware of the type or the amount of the drug and claimed that his role was merely to advise how to smuggle the drugs into Israel, in exchange for some 200,000 US dollars.
Tannenbaum initially maintained that he had gone to Lebanon to seek information about Ron Arad, an Israeli air force navigator missing since 1986.
Tannenbaum said that since he was convinced he would have to stand trial once he came back to Israel, when a deal was offered to him, he willingly signed it.
"The state made me the offer and my lawyers advised me to accept it. We accepted it with open arms," he said.
"I am not proud about what I have done. Everything that has happened is a black stain for me. I have since changed my life and I am revealing the whole truth, even though it is uncomfortable for me," Tannenbaum said.