The Times of London, June 18 1998

Israel persues Afghan ties to spy on Tehran


ISRAEL has been cultivating secret intelligence contacts with rival Islamic movements in Afghanistan with a view to installing sophisticated spying equipment to monitor Iranian nuclear arms development.

According to senior Western security sources, the pursuit of ties with Afghanistan - with which Israel has no diplomatic relations - and closer military links with Turkey are part of an Israeli plan to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear installations before Tehran gains a nuclear capability.

The Government of Binyamin Netanyahu is worried that a nuclear Iran would tip the balance of power in favour of hardliners across the Middle East. Mossad, the Israeli secret service, estimates that Iran will complete development of the Shahab 3 ballistic missile, capable of hitting Israeli cities, in 18 months and be able to build its first atomic bomb by 2002.

The first hint of the secret Israeli-Afghan contacts came in the latest edition of the British-based newsletter Foreign Report, noted for its intelligence sources. It was confirmed by Israeli officials and published yesterday in the Tel Aviv press. At the same time, Itim, the Israeli news agency, reported: "Incoming Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz met on Monday two senior Turkish Army generals as Israel and Turkey moved to tighten their relations."

Maariv, the Tel Aviv daily, quoted Foreign Report as claiming that, as far back as the 1991 Gulf War, Israel had decided to reach out to Islamic countries, including Afghanistan. The paper continued: "The ties with the large Muslim country will help the establishment of important intelligence bases along the border with Iran. Over the past few months ... Israel opened up two secret channels: the first with the previous Afghan Government [ousted in September l996] ... and the second with the present Taleban regime in Kabul."

Since the recent escalation of the arms race caused by the rival Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, Israel's attempts to woo the two main opposing centres of Islamic power in Afghanistan have accelerated.

Yediot Aharonot, the mass circulation Tel Aviv daily, quoted Foreign Report - often used as a conduit for leaking Israeli stories abroad and thus circumventing Israel's strict military censorship restrictions - as disclosing: "Israel, which is concerned about the Iranian nuclear race, hopes that its Afghan ties will enable it to install listening devices and advanced spy equipment adjacent to the Iranian border."

Eytan Bentsur, the Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, confirmed that initial contacts had taken place between Israeli diplomats and repesentatives of the Afghan rivals with the purpose of forging diplomatic ties regardless of which faction retains control of Kabul.

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