Israeli convicted of spying for Iran

A 55-year-old Iranian-born Israeli was convicted Monday by the Tel Aviv District Court on charges of spying for Teheran in a plea bargain.

The man, who could not be named due to a court-imposed gag order, was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport on May 8 by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and the police’s Serious and International Crimes Unit.

Police said the suspect, who is said to live abroad, told his interrogators that he visited the Iranian consulate regularly in Istanbul.

“The suspect agreed to cooperate with Iranian intelligence officials. He gave them names of people he knew and claimed they were working for Israeli security forces,” the police said.

The suspect was formally charged in May 2008 with agreeing to cooperate with Iranian intelligence and having divulged details about Israeli security system employees. The Tel Aviv District Court agreed to a request by the district attorney to hold a trial behind closed doors.

According to Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Iran is deeply concerned by the prospect of an Israeli military strike on its nuclear sites and is employing all possible means to glean information on Israel.

“Without question, we are the primary target of Iran’s spy efforts. They’re scared of an Israeli operation,” Kam said. “The Iranians also try to use Arab Israelis and Palestinians, who are their preferred channel. They are also using Hizbullah and Hamas to eavesdrop.”

Ra’anan Gissin, a strategic analyst and previously a spokesman for prime minister Ariel Sharon, said that “Israel has turned into the No. 1 intelligence target for Iran because we are the main obstacle to Iranian dominance in the Middle East.”

He added that “they follow Israel very closely. Having a man on the ground can help them keep track of the general level of alert here, and to hold evaluations of possible Israeli responses.”

In 2007, the Shin Bet warned that Iran was making concerted efforts to recruit Israelis as spies during their visits to relatives in the Islamic republic. Over the past years, the Shin Bet has questioned about 10 Israelis, some of them Jews, who are suspected of agreeing to spy for Iran during visits to the country.

In its warning, the Shin Bet marked out the Iranian consulate in Istanbul, where Israelis apply for Iranian travel documents. Israelis who visit the consulate are taken to side rooms and questioned, under pressure, for several hours. Iranian officials ask about their military background, their family and their jobs.

The Shin Bet said Iranian intelligence-gathering focused on three points: Israel’s decision-making echelon, Israel’s military and defense establishments, and the strengths and weaknesses of its society.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report
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