Israel's government reacted with alarm Wednesday to reports that Israeli mercenaries may have helped drug dealers in Colombia to train squads to assassinate public figures.
The apparent involvement came to light when voices in Hebrew were heard on a videotape broadcast by NBC on Tuesday night. The tape, which purportedly pictured the training of assassination teams in the service of Colombian drug dealers, was reportedly made by the drug lords to show Colombian authorities how able their forces are.
'Acting on Their Own'
Colombia is in a virtual state of war with the drug cartels following the assassination of leading anti-narcotics officials and political figures, including Sen. Luis Carlos Galan, a top candidate for president who was gunned down on Friday.
"If the reports are true, they pertain to actions of individuals who are acting on their own," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "Such actions would be in violation of Israeli law and would be contrary to Israeli policy, which is strongly committed to the war on drugs."
The spokesman said the Foreign Ministry, "along with other ministries, is checking the facts and will take all possible steps to prevent such activities."
Foreign Ministry sources said the Israeli Embassy in Colombia was notified in April of the involvement of Israeli citizens in training hit squads. They said the embassy replied that it was beyond its power to do anything about the matter.
Israeli police announced Wednesday that they will ask for information on the Israeli mercenaries from U.S. and Colombian anti-drug agencies. Besides the Israelis, 11 British citizens are reported to be training the hit teams.
There were hints in the Israeli reaction that military assistance to Latin American governments, particularly in Central America, may have spawned free-lance cooperation with drug dealers.
Israel government television identified a man shown instructing a hit squad as Yair Klein, a retired colonel. Klein reportedly heads a company called Hod Hahanit, which specialized in security and military know-how. The report said the company was licensed by Israel's Defense Ministry.
According to a report in Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest-circulation newspaper, any Israeli involvement in Colombia would be of "great worry" to Israeli diplomats.
High-Paid 'Hit Men'
"This time," it said, "what is being discussed is not aid to guerrilla units, rebels or even fascist governments, as was acceptable up to now in Panama, Colombia and other South American countries, but salaried Israeli 'hit men' who produce military units that agree to work for drug sellers for hundreds of thousands of dollars per person."
Israel's military relations with Latin countries have been shrouded in secrecy and are a subject of controversy. As part of its own effort to fund domestic military programs, Israel has sold military equipment to every Central American country except Belize and to several countries in South America.