(photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
The Central District Court in Lod sentenced an Iranian-born Belgian national to seven years in prison on Tuesday after convicting him of spying for Iran.
In September 2013, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) apprehended Ali Mansouri at Ben-Gurion Airport, where he was carrying photographs of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and other sites.
The Shin Bet alleged that Mansouri was part of a special- operations unit within Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, sent to Israel to locate potential terrorism targets for the Islamic Republic.
According to the Shin Bet, Mansouri was promised $1 million for using his position as a businessman to establish companies for Iranian intelligence services in Israel in order to “harm Israeli and Western interests.”
His defense attorney Avigdor Feldman said that no appeal was expected from his client.
“The court heard our arguments that the security of Israel was not compromised,” Feldman told AFP. “It was the Iranian secret services who put pressure on him and his family, and we feel that this verdict was rather fair and reasonable in view of the circumstances.”
According to the Shin Bet, Iran recruited the 55-year-old Mansouri, a dual Iranian-Belgian citizen, in 2012 to carry out terrorist operations in Israel.
He acquired his Belgian citizenship by marrying a Belgian woman in 2005; the next year, he divorced her and changed his name to cover up his Muslim identity.
An indictment released before his trial said he’d had several meetings with the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, the extraterritorial unit responsible for special operations, terrorism and subversion.
His initial meeting was with Iranian intelligence agents Haji Hamid and Haji Moustafa at his office in Karaj, 20 km. west of Tehran, in February 2012, the indictment said.
In April 2012, Mansouri’s brother – whom he knew had past involvement with Iranian intelligence – invited him to meet with Mahdi Hambabi, who introduced himself as the supervisor of the agents Mansouri had met earlier and as a senior Iranian intelligence official.
Mansouri carefully covered his tracks to try and hide his espionage activities from the Israeli security establishment, the indictment said. His techniques for avoiding discovery included traveling to Israel only from European countries and not from Turkey, where he also had business.
The indictment also alleged that he had only traveled to Israel on his Belgian passport, always leaving his Iranian passport behind; that he had bought a telephone for use only in Israel; and that except for one time, he had contacted his handlers in person in Iran and not by any electronic means in Israel or Europe.
His first visit to Israel started on July 29, 2012, and lasted only a few days, but he began a longer visit on January 29, 2013, according to the indictment.
During his second visit, he took photographs of various locations.
After each trip, his Iranian handlers carefully debriefed him about his activities and gave him instructions for his next trip.
Mansouri was found with photographs of a top-secret installation, the US Embassy and Ben-Gurion Airport, as well as a review of the security procedures at the airport, such as the types of questions travelers were asked.
Initially Mansouri stuck to his cover story during interrogation, as his handlers had instructed. However, during later questioning, he “described entering Israel under a Belgian identity using the alias Alex Mans, as well as his recruitment and activation process by Iranian intelligence elements,” the Shin Bet said.