Ilan Grapel, the alleged Mossad agent arrested on Sunday in Egypt, is an American citizen who served in the IDF Paratrooper’s Brigade during the Second Lebanon War and interned last summer at the Israeli Supreme Court.
Grapel, originally from New York, moved to Israel after graduating from Johns Hopkins University in the US and enlisted in the IDF.
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He was wounded during fighting against Hezbollah guerillas in the southern Lebanese town of Taibe in August, 2006. In an interview to the New York Daily News in 2006, Irene Grapel said her son decided to enlist in the IDF since he "didn't want a boring life" and craved some adventure before enrolling in graduate school.
A friend of Grapel’s told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he had worked as an intern at the Israel Project – an Israel advocacy organization - in 2008 and had studied Arabic and even lived for short period of times with Druse communities in northern Israel. He frequently traveled throughout the Arab world.
In recent years he was a student at Emory Law School and even interned at the Israeli Supreme Court, according to the Emory Law School website.
“You could call him something of an Arabist,” one friend said. Another friend said Grapel was “pro-Arabic” and liked “hanging out in Egypt.”
In his Facebook account, Grapel cited “preaching” at Azhar University in Egypt as his job, likely a joke.
“He probably went there for an adventure and to see Tahrir Square,” the friend said. “He is very left-wing and has been in Cairo before for months at a time.”
“I was very surprised and the way I know Ilan he is not like this and has always been concerned with human rights and Palestinian rights,” another friend Shmuel said.
The Foreign Ministry said Monday afternoon that it had yet to receive details from Egypt regarding the arrest of an Israeli citizen. A government source said that Israel was assuming that Grapel was the detained Israeli after matching the pictures that appeared in the Egyptian press with those that appeared on his Facebook page.
The source said that the Foreign Ministry had updated the State Department about Grapel’s arrest since he is also an American citizen.
On Sunday, Egyptian Judge Hesham Badawi of the supreme state security prosecution ordered Grapel to be detained for 15 days on suspicion of "spying on Egypt with the aim of harming its economic and political interests," MENA news agency reported, while claiming that he worked for the Mossad, Israel’s espionage agency.
One judiciary source said that Grapel had been active in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolt against Mubarak, after the former president stepped down.
"He was there on a daily basis inciting youths towards sectarian strife. He was distributing money to some of them," the source said, adding he had been encouraging some youths to clash with the army. He said youths reported the man's actions.