Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 157

Relations between Russia and Israel have taken a double hit in recent days as an Israeli newspaper reported yesterday that an investigation into a local crime figure could reflect badly upon Boris Yeltsin’s government while Israeli television a day earlier accused Russia of assisting Iran in developing long-range missiles. The first case involves suspected Mafia member Gregory Lerner, who immigrated to Israel in 1989 and was arrested in May on charges of having defrauded Russian banks of $85 million and of possible involvement in at least two murders. (See Monitor, May 16)

According to the Yediot Ahronot daily, Lerner and his shady dealings have been tied to unnamed associates of the Russian president. The same report claimed that Israel had earlier passed this information on to Russian police, but that there were attempts in Moscow to sabotage the investigation and to withhold the information from Russian internal affairs minister Anatoly Kulikov. (AP, August 25) On May 22 Israel and Russia signed a cooperative agreement on crime-fighting, and, in the wake of Lerner’s arrest, there have been warnings of a burgeoning Russian mafia presence in Israel.

Meanwhile, an Israeli television report on August 24 renewed charges that the Russian government is aiding Iran in the development of long-range missiles. Israel TV’s Channel Two said that hundreds of Russian scientists are working on the missile project. That report was backed up yesterday by David Bar-Illan, a senior adviser to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Illan did caution, however, that it is unclear whether the "Russian assistance to Iran is private or government controlled." He confirmed that the missile project has repeatedly been on the agenda in talks between Russian and Israeli officials. (AP, August 25)

In January of this year Israeli intelligence reportedly presented evidence of the Russian-Iranian missile project to Washington, and Netanyahu raised the issue during a meeting with U.S. president Bill Clinton in February. Early that same month the U.S. administration issued a diplomatic warning over the missile project to Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during his own visit to the U.S. A Los Angeles Times report at that time quoted Israeli officials as saying that Russian assistance to Iran included not only detailed instructions on how to construct the delivery system for the Russian SS-4 missile, but also the transfer of some parts for the missile. Chernomyrdin denied the accusations, as have other Russian government and arms industry spokesmen since that time. (Reuter, February 12; see Monitor, February 14) The latest reports come despite the fact that, during a visit to Moscow in March, Netanyahu was said to have won assurances from Yeltsin that Russia had not delivered missile systems to Iran and had no intention of doing so.

Yeltsin Hints at Corruption in Arms Trade.