It's believed to be an export to Iran in drug-fighting effort
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Page A - 7
Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Night-vision equipment found in Lebanon was said by Israel to have been made by Agema, based in England and San Diego. Photo courtesy of Israeli Defense Forces
Kiryat Shemona, Israel -- Israeli intelligence officials have complained to Britain and the United States that sensitive night-vision equipment recovered from Hezbollah fighters during the war in Lebanon had been exported by Britain to Iran. British officials said the equipment had been intended for use in a U.N. anti-narcotics campaign.
Israeli officials say they believe the state-of-the-art equipment, found in Hezbollah command-and-control headquarters in southern Lebanon during the just-concluded war, was part of a British government-approved shipment of 250 pieces of night-vision equipment sent to Iran in 2003.
Israeli military intelligence confirmed that one of the pieces of equipment is a Thermo-vision 1000 LR tactical night-vision system, serial No. 155010, part No. 193960, manufactured by Agema, a high-tech equipment company with branches in Bedfordshire, England, and San Diego. A spokesman for Agema in San Diego denied all knowledge of the system.
The equipment, which needed special export-license approval from the British government, was passed to the Iranians through a program run and administered by the U.N. Drug Control Program. The equipment uses infrared imaging to provide nighttime surveillance that allows the user to detect people and vehicles moving in the dark at a range of several miles.
Use of such equipment would have enabled Hezbollah to detect and record the movements of Israeli forces inside Israel, as well as its military advance into Lebanon.
Britain and Italy both have provided specialized tracking and monitoring equipment over the past decade as part of U.N.-sponsored attempts to stem the flow of heroin and opium into Western Europe from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran is a major route for shipment of narcotics to the West.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office in London said Saturday, "The Israeli Defense Forces have confirmed to us they have found some night-vision equipment in south Lebanon that is apparently made in Britain. We're trying to get further details to see exactly what the equipment is, who made it and who the original buyer is."
The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Britain participates, through the U.N. drug-fighting agency, in Iran's interception program, which is run by anti-narcotics forces along the country's eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, both major opium poppy-growing countries.
"We've been encouraging the Iranians as part of their anti-narcotics program, and there was an export in 2003 ... as part of the heroin and opium smuggling program. This is an area where we try not to let the nuclear issue prevent cooperation on countering narcotics," he said, referring to Iran's dispute with the United Nations over its nuclear enrichment program.
The Foreign Office spokesman said officials at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv have requested serial and parts numbers of the seized equipment to try to determine how it ended up in the hands of Hezbollah guerrillas fighting Israeli forces in Lebanon.
The equipment was found by Israeli forces in the southern Lebanese village of Mis-a-Jebel on Aug. 8, in a house belonging to a 60-year-old man whose four sons were all known to be Hezbollah fighters. The discovery was disclosed in a briefing by Lt. Col. Olivier Radowicz, an Israeli army spokesman, and later confirmed in detail by Israeli military intelligence officials, who also provided photographs of the equipment taken in the house where it was discovered.
"These are tactical night-vision systems ... given to Hezbollah by Iran. The Iranians are the 100 percent provider of all the materiel, especially intelligence materiel, to Hezbollah," Radowicz said.
The discovery of the night-vision equipment, together with sophisticated recording and monitoring devices and stashes of antitank missiles and rockets, led the Israelis to believe the five-room house was the command-and-control unit for Hezbollah in the local area, he said.
In the early phases of the Israeli ground advance against Hezbollah positions across the border region, commanders complained to their superiors that nighttime operations had been hampered by the ability of Hezbollah fighters to observe and counter the Israeli moves. In more than six days of bitter fighting around the village of Mis-a-Jebel, the Israeli army lost six soldiers, and more than 20 were injured.
"The night-vision unit was used to observe the movement of troops. It's very close to the border, so it can see Israeli troops. You can also record what you are watching. Then it is connected to computers. You can obtain a perfect intelligence picture in real time about the situation. It is then connected to firing systems or to units that are going to act in accordance with the intelligence they are receiving," Radowicz said during the briefing.
"It is a system that we can find in every serious army in the world. We don't talk here about just a terrorist fantasy. We are talking here about a very serious, high-quality system of a very professional army. We're talking here about hundreds of millions of dollars given by Iran to Hezbollah in the last six years," he said.
"In every village which served as the regional command, you can find the same unit -- intelligence, weapons systems, command and control and connection -- with the units which are firing or using the mobile platforms (for firing rockets) for targeting Israel," he said.
Israeli intelligence officials said they had contacted the British and U.S. embassies in Tel Aviv to pass on information of the discovery of the night-vision equipment, requesting explanations of where the equipment had come from and how it fell into the hands of Hezbollah fighters.
Freelance journalist Bob Graham contributed to this report.