A man from the virulently anti-Zionist haredi Natorei Karta sect who was charged with attempting to pass sensitive information on Israel to Iran will serve four-and-a-half years in prison, according to the terms of a plea bargain approved Tuesday by the Jerusalem District Court.
Yitzhak Bergil, 47, who was arrested by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Israel Police in July 2013, reached the deal with prosecutors after confessing. A month after his arrest, the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment with the court on charges of intent to commit treason and contacting a foreign agent.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that the charges are relatively low-grade on the spectrum for spying. The sentence given to Bergil is equal to or more severe than punishments meted out for similar offenses in the past, including a mere three-year prison sentence for a man who tried to spy for Hezbollah.
According to the indictment, at an unknown date Bergil decided to make contact with the Iranian government in order to collect intelligence on Israel. To do this, he went online to check where he could approach an Iranian embassy.
On January 16, 2011, he flew to Berlin, where two days later he approached the embassy to tell the Iranians he was an Israeli and wanted to talk. He was in his usual haredi dress, including black-and-white clothing and tzitzit. He was introduced to three Iranian representatives, including a man who identified himself as Hagi Baba.
Bergil told Baba he was against the Jewish state, wanted it to be taken over by non-Jews, was ready to provide intelligence and was even ready to “kill a Zionist” if necessary. He baited the Iranians, asking them why they failed to prevent sabotage and attacks, apparently by Israel, within the Islamic Republic.
The Iranians responded with annoyance, saying he should be embarrassed to insult them when he was seeking asylum. Bergil retorted that he was not seeking asylum, but instead wanted to spy.
He returned to Israel on January 20, but kept up his connection with the Iranians by email at Internet cafes, and via telephone calls made from public phones near his place of residence in Jerusalem. One place he checked his email account for messages from the Iranians was the Vital Hotel, at 141 Jaffa Road. Two of the public phones he used were on Strauss Street and Kanfei Nesharim Street.
The Shin Bet said that under questioning, Bergil confessed he had worked “out of a hatred for the State of Israel and in exchange for financial compensation.”
A fringe ultra-Orthodox sect established in Jerusalem in 1938, Natorei Karta (Aramaic for “Guardians of the City”) believes Israel can be reestablished only after the coming of the Messiah. It therefore rejects Zionism and opposes the existence of the state.
Members of the sect in Israel and the US are known to burn the Israeli flag and have sent representatives to attend conferences in Iran. Last year, Arabic media reported that members of the sect met with Hezbollah officials in Beirut.