The US has requested Israel to track down a senior military officer who converted to Orthodox Judaism and was declared absent without leave after failing to return to his base in Texas, Israeli and US officials said Saturday.
"The United States asked us to track down Lieutenant-Colonel Jeremiah Mattysse who deserted from his base," David Ziso, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told AFP.
Another Israeli official closely involved with the case but who asked not to be identified told AFP that Mattysse fled to Israel after converting Judaism and joining the Habad ultra-Othodox sect.
US officials said Mattysse had failed to return to his military base in San Antonio, Texas on August 7th.
"We have reason to believe that he is in Israel and we are working with the Israeli government to have him return," Larry Schwartz, spokesman for the US embassy in Tel Aviv told AFP.
"We are grateful for the offer of cooperation extended by the Israeli embassy in Washington," he added.
Mattysse's girlfriend Ricky Niv, an Israeli who also belongs to the Habad sect, told Israeli public radio that the US is after her man because of his love for Israel, and that he had been forced to escape.
"All he wants is to be in a yeshiva (Jewish seminary) here, but he had to flee to Damascus," Niv said.
"He left in disguise wearing a wig, moustache and a beard," she added.
Syria and Israel have no relations of any kind, and did not explain why he had chosen to go there.
Niv implied that Mattysse was spying for Israel and accused Barak of failing to protect him, but Israeli and diplomatic officials described her as "unstable" insisting that there is no reason to believe that he was involved in any such activity.
"We have no evidence to support any of the fantasies Niv is describing. Mattysse was declared absent without leave and we are simply looking for the guy," said a US official who asked not to be identified.
In response to Niv's comparison between Mattysse and Jonathan Pollard, a US citizen serving a life sentence after been found guilty of spying for Israel, an Israeli official close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity described any comparison between the two as "preposterous."
"Niv is trying to keep Mattysse close to her and is making up a story, there is no evidence to support it. We have never heard of this man," he added.
But Niv told the radio that US officials had visited her home in Kfar Saba, a small town in central Israel.
"The three men from the embassy took lots of materials that he (Mattysse) sent me," she said.
Sources close to the investigation confirmed the visit.
Schwartz said he could not comment on the details of the inquiry.
Niv, who also holds US citizenship, said that Mattysse was an intelligence officer who was dismissed from his job after he became Orthodox.
She added that the military attaché in the US embassy in Tel Aviv asked her to fly to San Antonio to undergo questioning there.
The US embassy refrained from comment on that claim - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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