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Reports: Israel airline used as intelligence 'front'

New leaked documents reveal Israel uses airlines for intelligence operations
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on 23 February (AFP)

Leaked documents confirm allegations that Israel uses its flag-carrier El Al airlines as cover for its intelligence agencies.

The documents, obtained by Al Jazeera Investigative Unit from South Africa's intelligence agency, support claims made on a 2009 South African television programme by a former El Al employee which prompted an emergency meeting between senior officials from both sides.

Israeli officials have denied the whistleblower’s claims.

The allegations first emerged in 2009 when a South African El Al employee, Jonathan Garb – who claimed to have been recruited by Israel's Shin Bet domestic security service while working for the airline - appeared on Carte Blanche, an investigative TV programme, and alleged that the airline was conducting security operations at the airport that were illegal under South African law.

The leaked secret document from South Africa's National Intelligence Agency, since incorporated into the State Security Agency, says Israeli intelligence agents posed as El Al employees, reported Al Jazeera.

Garb revealed that El Al security personnel recruited by Shin Bet were made to profile passengers "racially, ethnically, and even on religious grounds".

The programme reported that the spies conducted clandestine searches on the belongings of people they deemed suspect, in violation of South African law, which only authorises police, armed forces or personnel hired by the transport ministry to carry out such searches.

El Al employees also smuggled weapons licensed by the local Israeli embassy for use by the spies, the TV report said, according to Al Jazeera.

Garb's allegations prompted an emergency meeting between Israeli and South African spies and diplomats, as well as El Al and airport managers on 23 November of 2009, according to the leaked document, reported Al Jazeera.

The leaked documents also revealed that Canada's intelligence agency had written to the SSA and asked for "any findings or information" on Israel using the airline as "a front for clandestine operations", promising to treat such information "in strict confidence".

The Canadian communication noted that a private security company has also investigated the claims, and that its findings had been "in support" of the revelations made by Garb on TV, reported Al Jazeera.

Earlier this week, secret documents published by several media outlets revealed that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2012 speech, in which he claimed Iran was just one year from making a nuclear bomb, had been contradicted by Israel's Mossad spy agency.

According to reports, Israel's Mossad spy agency found that Iran was "not performing the activity necessary to produce [nuclear] weapons."

The report was part of a massive cache of classified cables involving the world's top intelligence agencies – revelations the Guardian described as "one of the biggest spy leaks in recent times."

In a speech delivered before the UN General Assembly in September 2012, Netanyahu held up a cartoon of a bomb that featured a red line, which, he claimed, indicated that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear warhead within one year. 

At the time, he had said his information was based not on secret intelligence but on reports prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Netanyahu's presentation came at a time when Israel's longtime ally, the United States, was trying to bring the Iranian nuclear file to the negotiating table.

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