Four women and a man are suspected of assisting an Iranian intel operative
Israel's security service, Shin Bet, says it has busted an Iranian spy ring made up of four women and one man ? all Israeli nationals of Iranian origin ? who collected sensitive information in exchange for money.
The suspects are accused of furnishing an Iranian intelligence operative with photos of various strategic sites in Israel, with the US Consulate in Tel Aviv among them. The ring members are also said to have attempted to establish contacts with Israeli politicians at the request of their Iranian handler, who posed as a Jewish man living in Iran, and went by the name Rambod Namdar.
According to Israeli media, all five people involved in the criminal activities are Jewish immigrants from Iran or the descendants of Iranian immigrants, too.
Namdar allegedly first got in touch with the Israeli women on Facebook, subsequently switching to messaging service WhatsApp.
The suspects were all indicted in the Jerusalem District Court over the past month.
Their lawyers had argued the women had been unaware of Namdar's true identity and had no intention of undermining Israel's security.
The Shin Bet, however, insisted at least some of the suspects had been given ample reason to suspect their pen pal was not the person he claimed he was. A niece of one of the women involved, who lives in Iran and visited her Israeli relative, bringing along a reward in the amount of $1,000 worth of jewelry from Namdar, warned the suspect that the man "was unknown by the Jewish community in Tehran." However, the woman kept on doing the Iranian's bidding regardless, according to Israeli security officials.
The other suspects are said to have received thousands of dollars in exchange for their assistance as well.
The indictment says one of the women, however, did refuse to perform some of Namdar's tasks, which included providing him with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's email address and Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kochavi's phone number, as well as taking photographs of the Mossad's headquarters and military bases.
The Iranian operative is also said to have requested the suspect's nude photographs on multiple occasions - something that eventually led the woman to block Namdar's number.
According to the Times of Israel, while the discovery of the alleged spy ring did expose weaknesses that Iran could attempt to exploit going forward, apparently none of the people involved had access to significant classified materials, and hence their alleged activities likely did not seriously undermine Israel's national security.
Commenting on the case, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, however, urged his fellow countrymen and women to be cautious as there were "never-ending efforts and attempts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to recruit Israeli citizens." The premier added that "people behind the information you consume or share on the networks" could be Iranians. The Shin Bet echoed these warnings, pointing out that Iranian intelligence sought not only to obtain sensitive information, but also to lure Israelis "abroad in order to harm them," as the security service claimed.