The retired Israeli general arrested for allegedly conspiring to sell $2 billion in American weapons to Iran said Wednesday that Israel's defense establishment knew of his actions, and he threatened to cooperate with U.S. authorities unless his country intercedes.
Israel has denied any "connection or involvement in the matter."
Meanwhile, a U.S. official said the general, Avraham Bar-Am, was the No. 2 officer in the Northern Army Command in Israel in 1982, when that command was mainly responsible for the invasion of southern Lebanon.
Before his retirement in 1984, the official said, Bar-Am was chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces manpower branch but resigned amid allegations of improper conduct involving promotion practices and distribution of weapons to personal friends. Court papers say he has continued to serve as an adviser to the Northern Army Command.
The Associated Press reported from Jerusalem that the daily newspaper Davar reached Bar-Am by telephone in Bermuda, where he is in custody, awaiting extradition.
"The defense establishment knows about this group, of which I was an adviser," Davar quoted Bar-Am. "And if the state of Israel does not help us, I won't sit here for a month for nothing. I'll give myself up to the United States."
'Many People Involved'
United Press International quoted Bar-Am as saying on Israeli radio: "What we tried to sell was the state's equipment. Let's say there are many people involved in this deal, and in all of this we are only a small part." The broadcast said Bar-Am has a letter from Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin authorizing him to engage in arms sales but not specifically permitting sales to Iran.
A federal official said that Bar-Am's first phone call from jail was to the Israeli defense attache here. A criminal information filed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan charged Bar-Am and 16 others with conspiring to buy U.S. arms from other countries and sell them, in violation of an embargo, to Iran. At least nine of the suspects have been arrested.
The Israeli Defense Ministry, after denying that the scheme was government-sanctioned, later said its director general, Menachem Meron, had questioned again every official who could have authorized such an operation. "Israel had no direct, indirect or tacit connection with the matter, and the individuals acted on their own," the ministry said.
The Iranian government has denied any knowledge of the deal.
The Israeli Embassy here was closed Wednesday for the Passover holiday, and diplomatic officials could not be reached for comment. Embassy spokesman Yossi Gal said Tuesday, "The government of Israel has no connection or involvement with the matter."
The schemes, as described in court papers in New York, included five separate conspiracies, one involving the planned sale of $800 million in American missiles, helicopters, tanks and jet fighters that have been delivered to Israel.
Meanwhile, American law enforcement sources maintained that there was circumstantial evidence that the Israeli government may have known of the plot.
The sources said the defendants involved in the Israeli end of the conspiracy told undercover agents that "Israeli agents" advised them "not to enter the United States because it (the conspiracy) was illegal."