A Secret Israeli Operation out of Tigray

January 20, 2022
The following is an article form of a story which I first shared as a twitter thread.

Here's a story that slipped under the radar, not receiving  much coverage in the western press.

A few months ago, four war criminals wanted by the Ethiopian government escaped out of Tigray in a secret Israeli airlift operation.

Early last November reports emerged in the Israeli Press that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed angrily phoned and complained to Israeli PM Naftali Bennet about four war criminals being among dozens of people the Israeli government evacuated out of Tigray.  

Haaretz, which broke the news, described the evacuation as a "daring operation" which "endangered human lives and Israel's diplomatic relations with Ethiopia", insinuating that Israel may have entered Tigray without the knowledge of Ethiopian officials.  

Israel's Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked, described the individuals as "61 Tigres" in an interview following the news reports.

So, what are we to make of the PM's accusation that some war criminals are among these "61 Tigres"?    

Hundreds of TPLF fighters and loyalists have been indicted on war crimes charges including for the Mai Kadra massacre.

In Nov 2020, a TPLF youth off-shoot called Samri singled out Amhara civilians and went on house-to-house raids massacring households with axes and machetes.

The Ethiopian Attorney General's Office identified 202 perpetrators of Mai Kadra last May and announced the arrest of 23 of them.

The office indicated the whereabouts of the rest remained unknown, with most believed to have fled to Sudan.  

The PM's reaction suggests that the Ethiopian government was blindsided by the operation.

What's strange about this operation is that it came at the request of one man named Saraka Siom (Seyoum), described by Haaretz as "not a well-known figure in Israel's Tigrayan community".

Israel's own Population Authority discovered in an investigation that Seyoum brought his "ex-wife, two boys who claimed to be his sons" and several others who "have worked in his businesses".  

The agency accuses the government of engaging in what it calls a "conspiracy".

A senior Israeli official, on the other hand, said the Population Authority's investigation was "conducted recklessly" and denies the charges of conspiracy.  

The official insists Israel was acting on intelligence that  Ethiopian Jews were in imminent danger in Tigray.

The Population Authority disputes this and asserts the individuals “didn’t come from the conflict zone and their lives weren’t at risk at all".

Yet Israeli gov officials insist "regardless of whether they can truthfully claim Jewish ancestry ... the immigrants will remain here"

That this operation took place with the approval of the highest levels of the Israeli government is remarkable.

Especially, when considered in the context of other contemporaneous reports about Israel's refusal to sell Ethiopia UAV drones needed to halt the TPLF's advance.  

There's also a surprising claim in a story by DebkaFile, an Israeli military intelligence site, that "Israel and the Tigrayans have engaged in contacts in the past".

We're left wondering, is there an innocent explanation for why Israel secretly evacuated 61 people from Tigray?

Over the past four decades, Israel has evacuated ~100K Ethiopian Jews known as the Beta Israel and the Falash Mura.  

Today, the Beta Israel have all migrated out of Ethiopia while ~14K Falash Mura remain in Addis, Gonder, and Tigray awaiting immigration to Israel.

These members live in Jewish Agency compounds in Ethiopia which include a synagogue, schools, and pre-immigration preparation.

2000 Falash Mura have left Ethiopia over the past year and just recently an additional $46 million was earmarked by Israel to bring 3000 more.

Entrance to Jewish Agency compound in Gonder.

It's not clear why Israel didn't vet the Jewish identity of the 61 individuals while they were in Ethiopia rather than after they arrived in Israel.

It also seems unlikely that Ethiopian officials vetted the group for any indication of criminality.

An Israeli official asserts that PM Bennet "received the decision about the immigration operation as done and dusted" from the outgoing PM Netanyahu.

Regardless of who made the call, what's clear is that "61 Tigres" were brought to Israel instead of Falash Mura Jews.  

Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu who authorized the operation.

This story leaves us with more questions than answers and the identity of the individuals remains a mystery.  

But, before looking into the outstanding questions, here's what we know so far:

(1) Individuals on Ethiopia's most wanted list are part of a group evacuated out of Tigray by the Israeli government.

(2) Israel's own immigration agency accuses the Bennet admin of a "conspiracy".

(3) An individual named "Saraka Seyoum" engaged in massive immigration fraud.  

How did Seyoum manage to get the ear of the Netanyahu admin?

Is he the informant who tipped them about the imminent danger of Jews in Tigray?

What businesses does he have in Tigray?

Will Ethiopia verify his business dealings?

Will he be held accountable by Israel?

Does he exist or is he a front-man concealing a more nefarious reason?

For what it's worth, there are no public records for this individual.

A quick Google search returns just seven results all related to this story of the evacuation.

Following the PM's phone call, The Times of Israel reported that Israel has pledged to send back some individuals under the condition that it would first have to verify that they're indeed war criminals.

It's possible the two sides may have resolved the issue behind the scenes.

But it's hard to have confidence in Israel's attempts to verify these charges after its failure to verify that "61 Tigres" are not Falash Mura Jews.

So, we agree with the Population Authority's conclusion that "more remains concealed than revealed" about this operation.

On February 2 2022 an Israeli High Court has halted the immigration of 3000 Falasha Jews due to a lawsuit from an Israeli organization that has challenged the process of immigration to Israel saying most individuals are on "unsupervised lists" and their Jewishness is not vetted until they arrive to Israel.

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