BEIRUT: Israel charged a group of Israeli Arabs Wednesday with involvement in the smuggling of 20 kilograms of explosives into Israel via the border with Lebanon, The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.
A senior official with the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, accused Hezbollah of being behind the operation, the report added.
There are conflicting reports on the number of individuals arrested. The Post reported 8 while The Times of Israel newspaper and Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television network said 10.
The Shin Bet said in a statement Wednesday that it uncovered a network of Israeli drug dealers in July who had infiltrated improvised explosive devices from Lebanon into the Jewish state.
In early June, the security agency said, the network’s members infiltrated about 20 kilograms of C4 standard explosives as well as detonation systems for the IEDs into the country.
It added that some of the individuals involved in the scheme on the Israeli side had been arrested.
“Interrogations of the persons involved in the scheme revealed that the Lebanese drug dealers, who sent the IEDs into Israel, are known to be operating on behalf of Hezbollah,” the Shin Bet said.
The Times of Israel reported that the accused smuggled explosive detonators and other weapons into Israel from Lebanon, and that the “individuals were believed to have been waiting for an order to strike from Hezbollah.”
The Post said that the eight are from the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth and the village of Ghajar (half of which is occupied by Israel, with the other half is under Lebanese authority).
The paper described the explosives as high-grade and weighing 20 kilograms.
According to the daily, the bag was smuggled into Israel by a number of residents of Ghajar, and was transferred a few days later to a resident of Nazareth identified as Abed Zoabi, a drug dealer.
Zoabi hid the bag in his backyard but was captured by police in mid-July.
"The explosives could have been used against any type of target inside Israel," the paper quoted a senior Shin Bet official as saying.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg of Hezbollah's efforts against Israel...the attempted attack here and the recent attack in Bulgaria are all carried out by the same organization."
An attack at Burgas airport, Bulgaria on July 18 killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian driver and injured around 30 people. Israel blamed Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, but Tehran denied any involvement.
The official said that the operation would have needed the approval of Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah. He also speculated that Hezbollah was working with other Israeli Arabs to recruit terrorists to carry out such attacks.
The paper quoted Israel’s security agency as saying that Zoabi was told to hold on to the bag of explosives by a man named George Nimr who allegedly has ties to Hezbollah. Nimr is alleged to have told Zoabi that someone would come to collect the bag.
Reuters quoted the Justice Ministry Wednesday as listing a number of charges the Arab suspects face. They include aiding an enemy in war, having contact with foreign agents and several drug-related offenses.
A lawyer representing some of the eight Arabs said on Israeli army radio that they denied the charges, Reuters said.