Israeli businessman Matanya “Mati” Kochavi could have helped to supply surveillance planes to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), allowing it to spy on Iran, according to documents obtained by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The alleged supplies were part of a decade-long “secret mega deal” worth millions of dollars, Haaretz claimed, citing the documents which partially originated in the 2017 “Paradise Papers” leak by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Kochavi declined to comment on the report.
The documents allege that the deal included total payments of about 3 billion shekels, or about $846 million at the current exchange rate, and that large portions of the sum were paid in cash by Emirati leaders.
56-year-old Kochavi is allegedly one of the key people behind the deal, using “his best-known business enterprise, the Swiss firm AGT International,” Haaretz cited the documents as saying.
AGT bought two executive jets from the Canadian company Bombardier, and is “responsible for providing a substantial amount of the [intelligence gathering] systems which were installed in these aircraft,” according to Haaretz.
One of the planes was recently detected conducting test flights over the Gulf after taking off from Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra Air Base. A second aircraft is due to be sent to the UAE from the UK, in the near future, according to the leaks.
Referring to the documents, Haaretz noted that the planes “will be able to intercept communications and to identify, locate and map electronic systems operated by Iran in real time – including radar and aerial defence systems that protect its nuclear installations,” allowing the UAE to significantly increase its intelligence capabilities.
The alleged spy plane deliveries to the UAE come amid ongoing tensions in the Persian Gulf which have been escalating since Washington sent its aircraft carrier group to the area to send a “direct message” to Iran. This was followed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) downing a US spy drone in Iranian airspace, with Washington claiming that the drone was destroyed over international waters.
UAE FM Hopes for ‘Strategic Shift’ in Israel’s Relations With Arab States
The leak comes after UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash stated earlier this year that the Arab states’ decision to avoid contacts with Israel, made decades ago, had proved to be a mistake.
He suggested that a “strategic shift” in relations between the Arab states and Israel could happen in the next few years, with the contacts expected to increase over time.
His remarks came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argued last year that the “bad” 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “brought us closer to the Arab world on a scale that we never knew before.”
Israel and the majority of Arab states in the Middle East do not have formal diplomatic relations as most Arab countries support the Palestinians’ drive to obtain comprehensive international recognition of their independent state based on the territories of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip within the borderlines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.
Increasing Tensions Between Israel and Iran
Israel and Iran have not maintained diplomatic relations since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and in the past decades bilateral tensions have escalated sharply.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has been carrying out airstrikes against what it claims are Iranian military targets in Syria, while Tehran insists that it has only been sending military advisers to Damascus to help it fight terrorism. Iran denies Israel's right to exist and has threatened to wipe the Jewish state off the map.