Yaniv Kubovich — Haaretz Jun 19, 2018
The fact that many years have passed since Gonen Segev held a high-level post in the Israeli government does not mean that he could not have caused serious damage to the country due to the ties he forged later with Iran, Israeli security experts say.
Segev, a doctor by profession who was a member of Knesset and served as energy and infrastructure minister from 1992-95, has been charged by a Jerusalem court of spying on behalf of the Iranians and aiding the enemy during wartime, based on information supplied by the Shin Bet security service.
Until recently, Segev – who served a five-year jail term after being convicted in 2005 of smuggling ecstasy tablets into Israel and of forging a diplomatic passport – had resided in Nigeria. He has been arrested in Israel after being deported by police in Equatorial Guinea, where he moved in May.
While some of the materials Segev is said to have passed on to the Iranians beginning in 2012 could have become irrelevant because of the years that elapsed since he held office in Israel, security experts tell Haaretz, the information he had about people with whom he had personal relationships in Nigeria is of extreme importance in his alleged spying and information-gathering work on behalf of Iran
Specifically, note the experts, in today’s cyber era Segev’s connections with and information about people in the Israeli defense, energy and foreign-policy arenas are worth a great deal more and have a much higher potential to significantly harm Israeli national security. Such information can be exploited by the Iranians, who have an advanced cyber system, to be used as keys in huge databases for cyber attacks against defense companies and other strategic sites in Israel, by means of malware that is used to penetrate those entities.
Segev was extremely well connected to numerous major players in the Nigerian capital, one Israeli businessman working in defense and security projects there told Haaretz after publication of the Shin Bet investigation. Segev set up a sophisticated medical clinic in the city that served numerous diplomats and leading businesspeople from all over the world, among them Israelis, whether they were official government representatives or private businessmen. Segev apparently forged connections between foreign and Israeli figures and local Nigerian government representatives, bringing them together in joint ventures.
Segev first met the Iranians in 2012 when two intelligence figures working out of the Iranian Embassy in Nigeria approached him to discuss medical equipment, using Segev’s medical center as a cover. This allegedly led to his role as an Iranian agent, according to the indictment filed against the former minister.
Businessmen representing Israeli defense companies were likely exposed to the Iranians because of Segev, one Israeli security expert told Haaretz after they paid him for medical services with a credit card, sent him emails, called him from their cellphones or even, perhaps, left a briefcase unattended in the waiting room.
The individuals with whom Segev had ties probably included both senior businessmen in defense concerns and even people working undercover, and through him, says the expert, the Iranians could access highly confidential databases and information relating to them – without anyone knowing.
It is very difficult to know – at this stage – the extent of the damage that Segev may have caused.
Every exposed spy presents a golden opportunity for security services and the defense establishment to obtain important intelligence about the enemy country that runs him, says one former Israeli security official. The Iranians knew, too, before they used Segev, that the information he amassed during his years in the Knesset and as a minister was no longer relevant.
The most important decision Israel must now make after receiving the information of Segev’s alleged spying activities is how to exploit this case for Israel’s own benefit.
The first question to be examined in general, in such cases, says the former official, is how much the alleged spy’s operations have harmed Israel. If he is suspected of wreaking significant and immediate damage, he is arrested without delay. If it is deemed that his espionage activities on behalf of an enemy – Iran, for example – are not so dangerous in the short term, then the possibility of turning him into a double agent is considered. The idea is to offer the individual the possibility of continuing to work as a spy, but on behalf of Israel, without his Iranian operators knowing. In such a case, the goal is to ensure that any further information the Iranians receive is false but convincing.
Another possibility could be to monitor the spy’s activities in order to expose the identity of the Iranian entities behind the operation, says the official. Such information could be extremely useful in uncovering the Iranian intelligence system and even activities by other spies. Careful observation of the operators could bring in a great deal of priceless information for Israel: You can learn by means of eavesdropping and other means who ran the operative and who else they have spying for them – and very quickly discover what the other side knows, adds the former official, who observes, “It is possible using cyber capabilities to access the most sensitive computer systems of the enemy country.”