Lebanese businessman Iskandar Safa is the CEO of shipbuilding company Abu Dhabi MAR, which was contracted last year to build four Sa’ar 6-class corvette warships for the Israeli Navy.
But his relationship with Israel began years before—when asked to help in the search for Israeli navigator Ron Arad.
In the summer of 1989, on a luxurious yacht in the French Riviera, a polite but straightforward Israeli man approached French journalist Roger Auque.
“My name is Amos, I’m Israeli. There’s an Israeli pilot—Ron Arad is his name—who has been held captive since 1986,” the Israeli man told Auque without wasting any time on formal introductions.
“We think the person who got you released from captivity can help us,” Amos added.
The Israelis, Auque revealed in an autobiography released after his death, had asked to be introduced to a French businessman of Lebanese descent—Iskandar Safa, nicknamed “Sandy”—and in return promised Auque an interview with Sheikh Obeid, the spiritual leader of the Amal militant group based in Lebanon.
Safa had helped free Auque, who was kidnapped by Hezbollah when he was in Beirut.
Auque accepted the request and came to Israel, where Amos was waiting for him along with the Mossad agent “Tony” and Israeli diplomat Uri Lubrani, who was at the time the Coordinator of Government Activities in Lebanon.
The interview with Sheikh Obeid never materialized, but Auque got a different story instead. When he returned to Paris, Auque fulfilled his part of the deal and introduced Lubani to the French businessman.
In his autobiography, Auque revealed that the meeting between Lubani and Safa was held in the latter’s spacious apartment in one of Paris’ upscale arrondissements.
Lubani confirmed the story to Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, saying “I met with a lot of Lebanese figures in an effort to gather information
on the fate of Ron Arad, and I remember there was one among them called Safa.”
Iskandar (Alexandre) Safa was born in 1955 to a a Maronite Christian family in Ghadir, a town in northern Lebanon. Having completed his BE in Civil Engineering at the American University of Beirut in 1978, Safa proceeded to take his MBA at INSEAD, in Fontainebleau, France in 1982.
Along with his younger brother Akram, Iskandar Safa owns the Beirut and Paris-based Privinvest Holding Group, a major defense contractor in Europe. It controls shipyards and facilities in France, the United Kingdom, Greece, the United Arab Emirates and Germany.
Through Privinvest, Safa owns 30 percent of the shares of Abu Dhabi MAR, serves as the non-executive vice chairman of the board of Marfin Investment Group, a Greek listed holding company, and controls FIMAS SA, a French company with extensive real estate development and hospitality activities in the south of France. He also controls French shipyard Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie.
Safa is known in France for his involvement in two dubious affairs in the 1980s and 1990s. The first, in the late 1980s, involves ransom that was reportedly paid by the French government to free a group of French diplomats and journalists that were kidnapped in Lebanon.
The second affair, dubbed “Angola-gate,” came to light in 1991, when reports emerged that right-wing politicians in France tried to send $790 million worth of arms to Angola President José Eduardo dos Santos, who was fighting rebels in his country.
In both cases, some of the money disappeared somewhere along the way, and Safa was suspected of having mediated between the two sides and taking a hefty commission.
An anonymous source told a French newspaper at the time that Safa “had connections in all communities in the Middle East, including Israel and the Mossad.”
In 2010, he was reported to be brokering a deal for the French company Dassault Aviation, which was trying to sell its Rafale fighter plane to Saudi Arabia.
In 2012, it was reported that Safa, a friend of Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, tried to broker several deals between Libya and different shipyards around the world.
Safa also brokered a deal to purchase to battle ships for the Algerian Navy from the German-based ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.