Israeli suspected in balloon-smuggling operation to Gaza

A Jewish businessman was released under restrictive conditions over balloon imports.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

David Cohen, 50, suspected of attempting to smuggle into Israel hundreds of thousands of balloons meant for the Gaza Strip via Hebron, was released Wednesday under restrictive conditions.

He had been arrested after the Israel Tax Authority, acting on intelligence information, found two containers in the Ashdod Port full of balloons in the colors of the Palestinian Authority flag. They had been imported from China by Cohen’s company, DC Logistics, Ltd.

However, the recipient’s name on those boxes was that of a Hebron-based Palestinian businessman named Tahsin Majd Ahmad Dufash. It is suspected that Dufash ordered the balloons in order to smuggle them into Gaza to be used as incendiary devices.

It is illegal to import goods to be sold to Palestinians without declaring this information on the customs forms, and the Authority said that Cohen “implicated himself in the crime.”

However, on Thursday, Cohen’s lawyer publicly denied her client’s guilt, describing him as a normal individual, a father of four, and a patriotic Israeli who served as in the elite Golani brigade.

“It’s all hypotheses, there’s no evidence that links him to this,” said Yifat Ben-Avi in a radio interview. The Tax Authority’s claims, she said, are just that – claims. She noted that the goods remain at the Port of Ashdod and haven’t been smuggled anywhere.

“The offenses attributed to him are offenses related solely to the filing of import documents,” she said.

“He imported two containers of toys and balloons, a completely legitimate import. There’s no problem importing balloons, balloons are sold everywhere,” Cohen’s lawyer said. “Who said it was meant for Hebron? There is no evidence of this. They cannot show that the goods were sold in Hebron, it is impossible to prove that the merchandise was intended for Gaza. This is all sheer speculation.”

She only heard about the colors of the balloons online, she added, and her client has not yet been questioned about it.

Cohen was questioned on Monday, and according to a Tax Authority statement, “The entire purpose of his actions were to [act as] camouflage for the final destination of the goods.”

Since last year, Hamas terrorists have launched thousands of balloons, kites and even condoms into Israel that have burned down hundreds of acres of fields and forests in the South. Some have even landed near houses and kindergartens.

On Wednesday, incendiary balloons ignited 11 separate fires in the Gaza envelope region.