The South African authorities several days ago deported a security officer working for Israel's El Al airlines, who is employed by the Israeli Embassy in the country and has a diplomatic passport.
The authorities issued an ultimatum to Israel, saying that if an arrangement on the employment of El Al security guards is not reached by the end of the month, they would all be deported from South Africa.
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily has learned that the Foreign Ministry immediately sent out a team of diplomats to South Africa to negotiate the matter, in a bid to have security guards stay in the county in favor of El Al's Johannesburg-Tel Aviv flights.
The affair began about two months ago, when Jonathan Garb, who had worked as a security guard for El Al for 19 years, was fired. In an act of revenge, he revealed the Israeli airline' security methods to a prestigious South African investigative television program.
"We classify people on a racist, ethnic and even religious basis," he claimed. Garb said that during his training he had been sent to Israel for advanced studies and was hired by the Israeli security services. "We trained with weapons at a secret base where the special Israeli forces train. We used guns and submachine guns in face-to-face combat."
The program also sent a Muslim investigator with a hidden camera to El Al's security check station at a local airport. Within seconds, the man was stopped by an El Al security guard, who was later deported from the country. The program's reporter accused El Al of having a racist policy, of deceiving the South African authorities and of seriously violating the constitution.
El Al officials expressed their hopes on Thursday that the Foreign Ministry would be able to solve the crisis. According to the sources, the flights from South Africa to Israel were not at risk of being canceled.
Yossi Levy, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said in response that "the ministry cannot comment on security matters."