Syrian handler who reached out to Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians for Iran (Credit: Shin Bet)
Iran has tried to recruit a wide network of agents in Israel via social networking sites, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced on Wednesday.
The combined Shin Bet, Israel Police and IDF operation foiled the network, which aimed to recruit individuals in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza “for the benefit of Iranian intelligence,” the agency said in a statement.
The sources were asked to gather information on military bases, sensitive security installations, personnel, police stations, hospitals and more, as part of preparing targets for terrorist attacks in Israel by Iran.
According to the Shin Bet, while the network was directed by Iran, it operated from Syria and was led by an individual known as Abu-Jihad, who tried to recruit people by initiating contact from fictitious Facebook profiles and then speaking with the target through messaging applications.
Since April, a broad counterterrorism operation has been implemented against recruits in Israel and the West Bank in which a number of Israeli citizens were involved, after intelligence indicated that they had been contacted and recruited by Iranian handlers.
During the investigation, intelligence showed that the recruits had transferred information to their handlers in Syria, and had stated their intention to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, both civilian and military.
Nevertheless, the Shin Bet said, “the vast majority of Israeli citizens refused to cooperate with them, because they suspected it was a hostile element and cut off contact with them.
“An Israeli who receives a request from a network that he suspects is related to a terrorist body or organization is requested to update the police and to disconnect from that party immediately,” the Shin Bet said, adding that “security forces will continue to act with determination to thwart any activity by Iran and terrorist elements acting on its behalf against the security of the state.”
In recent months, several other similar operations by Hezbollah and Hamas have been foiled by Israeli security agencies. Several Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have been arrested following intelligence showing that they had been recruited online by terrorist groups in order to gather intelligence for attacks.
“Using social networks is a method known to intelligence agencies as being used by terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah, to recruit activists,” the Shin Bet said.
In mid-April, the Shin Bet, in cooperation with the Israel Police, arrested 32-yearold Thaer Shafut from the Hebron area on suspicion of being in contact with Iranian intelligence.
A Jordanian national, Shafut “had entered Israel on behalf of Iranian intelligence in order to carry out missions designed to advance the formation of cells in Israel and in the West Bank for use in covert Iranian activity.”
According to the agency, Shafut first came into contact with Iranian intelligence when he was in Lebanon, where he met with two Arabic-speaking operatives who went by the pseudonyms “Abu Tzadak” and “Abu Jafar.”
He held meetings with his Iranian handlers in 20182019 in Lebanon and Syria. Throughout the year, he was instructed to establish a commercial infrastructure in Israel to serve as cover for future Iranian activity, apparently to gain access to Israel and the West Bank, and recruit spies to assist in gathering information to further Iranian interests.
He entered Israel in July-August 2018 and April 2019, and began to contact local elements who he hoped would assist him.
An indictment was filed against him on June 10 by the military advocate-general’s office, accusing him of contact with an enemy, contact with a hostile organization, and conspiracy to smuggle enemy funds into the area.