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The Media Line: 5 Israelis Arrested for Allegedly Spying for Tehran

5 Israelis Arrested for Allegedly Spying for Tehran

Handler asked suspects to report on security procedures, have sons join IDF intelligence

By Debbie Mohnblatt / The Media Line

The Shin Bet security agency this week uncovered a spy ring comprising Israeli Jews apparently recruited by an agent of Iranian intelligence.

Five Israelis − four women and a man − stand accused of contacting an Iranian agent and carrying out intelligence missions at his command. Among these assignments, the suspects were asked to photograph the American Embassy in Jerusalem and its branch in Tel Aviv; connect with Israeli public figures; ask their sons to try to enlist in the Israeli military’s Intelligence Corps; and report on security procedures at public places, the Shin Bet said.

The suspects were contacted through social media by a handler using the name “Rambod Namdar,” who claimed to be an Iranian Jew living in Tehran. The first contact was made in 2017 through Facebook.

The suspects, whose names are barred from publication under a gag order, are all either emigrated from Iran or are descendants of Iranian immigrants.

They include a married couple in their 40s living in Holon, south of Tel Aviv. The man is a taxi driver and the woman a presenter at a radio station. She allegedly photographed the US Embassy branch office in Tel Aviv as well as the inside of the Interior Ministry office in Holon and supplied details of the security procedures at a Holon shopping mall.

Additionally, they were allegedly instructed to direct their son to join an intelligence unit in the Israeli military. The son even conducted a video call with “Namdar” to allow the latter to evaluate his level of Persian language, which is required to join some intelligence divisions.

Even though the couple suspected “Namdar” of being linked to the Iranian intelligence services, they stayed in touch with him for several years.

“Namdar” also asked the suspect to use her journalistic connections to provide the email of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as the telephone number of Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the chief of staff of the IDF. The suspect rejected these requests, the Shin Bet said.

Lastly, “Namdar” repeatedly asked the suspect to send him nude pictures of her, which eventually resulted in her blocking his phone number.

A third suspect is a 57-year-old woman living in Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, who was also in touch with “Namdar” for several years. She was also asked to direct her son to enlist in an intelligence unit in the military, and told to photograph her ballot in the March 2020 election, and connect with Likud MK Kathrin Shitrit, also a resident of Beit Shemesh, and provide details of their relationship.

The suspect asked Shitrit for help in getting her son into the IDF’s Unit 8200, which is responsible for collecting signal intelligence and code decryption. Shitrit told her she had “no ability to transfer people from place to place in the army,” the lawmaker told Channel 12.

Also, “Namdar” allegedly asked the suspect to install a hidden camera in the room in her home where she worked as a masseuse, and to record her clients to produce embarrassing material that could be used for blackmail. The suspect invited Shitrit for a massage, who declined the offer. In the end, the suspect filmed a different client one time only, and then deleted the video out of fear of the consequences, according to the investigation.

Additionally, when the suspect tried to photograph the US Embassy in Jerusalem, she was stopped by guards there.

The suspect allegedly received a total of $5,000 for cooperating with “Namdar.”

A fourth suspect is a 47-year-old woman from Kfar Saba, northeast of Tel Aviv, who works as an assistant in a local school. She is accused of transferring money coming from “Namdar” to the third defendant on two occasions. The money is believed to have been brought by a niece of the Kfar Saba suspect visiting from Iran, who also bought her a necklace and silver earrings.

The fifth defendant is a 50-year-old woman who lives in Jerusalem and made aliyah from Iran in 2001. She is accused of providing information about the Iranian immigrant community in Israel and is alleged to have received compensation of around $1,000 coming from “Namdar.”

All the defendants are charged with contacting a foreign agent and most of them with transferring valuable information to the enemy.

Avi Melamed, a Middle East expert and a former senior Israeli intelligence official, told The Media Line, “It is not clear whether these people knew who they were talking to, or whether they had suspicions that they were being operated by an Iranian espionage agency.”

“The main charge that the defendants are possibly facing is contact with a foreign agent, which is a very broad term that can be open to different definitions and interpretations,” he continued.

Melamed explained that the hostility between Israel and Iran is manifested in various spheres, “not only in the physical arena that includes missiles and ships and drones. There’s also the cyber arena, the espionage arena.

“This is not the first time, and probably not the last, that Iranians have tried to operate an espionage network in Israel,” he said, adding that they have also attempted to do so in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories.

Melamed suggested Israel “should operate on the assumption that this is going to continue, perhaps to escalate, because this is an ongoing part of this conflict, a constant threat. The Iranians are always looking for any possible way to collect information, acquire additional intelligence.” He then added, “It is an endless task for the Israeli intelligence and security services.”

There is a significant Iranian community in Israel. “There are between 25,000 and 30,000 Iranians in Israel,” Zion Hasid, head of the Central Organization of Iranian Immigrants in Israel, told The Media Line.

“I know some of the suspects personally, and based on my own research into the matter, I am sure that they are innocent of intentionally committing any crime,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the Iranians are very smart and probably” drove them to do things without knowing what they were doing, Hasid said. “They [the suspects] did not intend to do anything against the Jewish people or the State of Israel.

“The tactics of the Iranians are really sophisticated” and they intend, Zion explained, “to create conflict between the Iranian community in Israel, the Jewish people as a whole, and the State of Israel,” he continued.

“I think all of this [the espionage allegations] is a lie and nothing will come out of it,” Hasid said.

“The Iranian community in Israel is really sorry for what happened,” he clarified. “The Iranian people in Israel are an asset and not a problem. We are all happy in the State of Israel; I can’t really imagine them doing these things on purpose,” he said.

“The entire Jewish Iranian world is faithful to the State of Israel,” Hasid said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett congratulated the security services for arresting the spy ring.

“I call on the citizens of Israel to be vigilant about these attempts. It may be that the people behind the information you consume or share on the networks are Iranians,” he said on Wednesday. “The long arm of Israeli security services will reach anyone who tries to harm Israel’s security.”

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