A group of Israelis suspected of illegally trading weapons to an unnamed Asian country were dealing with an adversary to the United States, security officials said Thursday, hours after the case was announced by the Shin Bet domestic security service.
Dozens of Israelis, including defense industry officials, are suspected of involvement in the affair, according to the Shin Bet, Israel Police and the office of the Director for the Security of the Defense Establishment.
Most of the details of the case cannot be published, including the name of the country involved.
At least 20 Israelis are accused of developing, testing, manufacturing and selling advanced loitering munition. The weaponry was even tested inside Israeli cities, the investigation found.
A video released Thursday shows the test of a missile that the suspects, some of whom are former defense industry workers, allegedly tried to sell to the unnamed country.
The Shin Bet said there was genuine concern that the missiles would fall into the hands of an enemy state, while members of the defense industries expressed shock that former employees had illegally developed weapons systems for a foreign client.
Authorities have seized NIS 3 million from the bank account of the most senior suspect, although investigators believe that the suspects could have made tens of millions of dollars from the transactions. It is unclear if the group was successful in providing a fully developed product to the unnamed country.
The first hearings in the case are set to take place soon.
The arrests were conducted under massive secrecy and adjudicated by a judge who is a veteran of the defense establishment. The judge called the allegations extremely serious and pointed to the huge amount of material collected by the investigators.
The investigation is looking into whether the unnamed country, which has an adversarial relationship with the U.S., knew that the people they were dealing with were not acting in an official capacity and was in fact trying to bypass the Israeli government that would have not approved such a weapons sale.
If this turns out to be the case, it could a serious diplomatic incident between Israel and the unnamed country.
Another avenue of investigation is that the Israelis involved presented themselves as citizens of a third country.
Officials said that the alleged crimes have the potential to cause massive damage to the security of the state, if Israelis citizens have in fact been trading in technologies with foreign entities in violation of the law.
The suspects were investigated in recent months on suspicion of committing offenses against the state’s security under the Defense Export Control Law and money laundering among others.
During the investigation, it emerged the suspects had received instructions from entities related to the Asian country, which is not considered hostile by Israel, in exchange for massive funding and other benefits.
The communication was conducted in secret in an attempt to disguise the entity for which the missiles were being developed.
"The investigation revealed a great deal of information about the methods used by foreign bodies vis-à-vis Israelis, including the use of concealment techniques in carrying out the transactions," the police and the Shin Bet said in a statement.
"The affair illustrates the potential damage to national security such transactions represent... including the fear that this technology may spill over into countries hostile to Israel."
The investigation material has recently been submitted for examination to the Economics Department of the State Prosecutor’s Office. It has yet to be determined if all the suspects will be prosecuted for the offenses.
TPS contributed to this report