The Foreign Ministry is contacting authorities in Egypt to check if they do in fact have an Israeli citizen in custody and if so, to learn his identity, Army Radio reported.
On Sunday, Israel denied involvement – and any familiarity – with Egyptian allegations that a Mossad spy was caught in Cairo on suspicion of spying and trying to recruit Egyptian youths to act against the authorities after president Hosni Mubarak’s recent overthrow.
A Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem said the ministry was “totally and completely unfamiliar with the story,” and was looking into the matter, after first hearing about it in the media.
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Judge Hesham Badawi of the Supreme State Security Prosecution ordered the suspect, named as Ilan Chaim Grabel, detained for 15 days on suspicion of “spying on Egypt with the aim of harming its economic and political interests,” the MENA news agency reported.
It added that the man worked for the Mossad.
One judiciary source said the man had been active in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, ground-zero 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.
The source claimed youths reported the man’s actions.
Egypt periodically announces the arrest of alleged Israeli spies, with most cases ending without evidence.
While details of this case were not known to officials in Israel, one possibility under consideration is that the Egyptian government is trying to raise tensions with Israel ahead of elections this fall, in an effort to distance itself from the Jewish state.
This strategy could be due to pressure the government is under from the Muslim Brotherhood – recently recognized as a legal political party.
Israeli leaders understand that Cairo’s change in attitude concerning Hamas and the Gaza Strip – highlighted by the recent decision to re-open the Rafah crossing from Sinai – is a politically motivated attempt to garner votes from the more Islamic elements in Egypt.Reuters contributed to this report.