Conservative Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, custodian of the holy shrine in Mashhad, confirmed Saudi reports on Friday that Iran successfully hacked the telephones of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu's family, according to Radio Farda.“In the past few days, Iran’s cyberattacks have resulted in hacking the mobile telephone of a candidate in Israeli elections and access to all the information," said Alamolhoda, adding that Iran has hacked the telephones of Netanyahu's family members.
The Saudi-based news website Independent Arabic first published the report about the hacking of Sara and Yair's telephones early last week. However, immediately following the report, its authenticity was denied by both the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the prime minister.
According to the Saudi report, the breach was committed several months ago and it is not yet clear what information was leaked through the tapping of their phones.
The Saudis also connected the hack of the Netanyahu family's phones to the alleged breach of the phone of Blue and White Party leader and former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz, which was first reported by Israel's Channel 12. This report was confirmed by Israeli officials, but said that the hacking happened several years ago and only surfaced now in an effort to harm Gantz's election campaign.
Iran's foreign ministry denied the Channel 12 news report that its intelligence service had hacked the mobile phone of Gantz, who is considered the main challenger to Netanyahu. Elections will take place on April 9.
Information about Gantz's phone has been leveraged by the Netanyahu campaign team repeatedly in an attempt to demonstrate that Gantz is a weak candidate who might be vulnerable to blackmail.
Gantz has confirmed that his phone was hacked, but said it carried no sensitive information. He has not blamed Iran.
"The [Israeli] regime's officials are long used to spreading lies," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said about the Gantz phone-hacking report, according to the state news agency IRNA. "They use their propaganda tools to link any event in the world to Iran."
Qasemi said the allegations were part of an Israeli "psychological war" aimed at stoking hostility.
The two arch-enemies have long been locked in a shadow war. Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, that sabotaged components of Iran’s nuclear program.
Iranian hackers have been behind several cyberattacks and online disinformation campaigns in recent years as Iran tries to strengthen its clout in the Middle East and beyond, Reuters reported in November.
The European Union digital security agency said in January that Iran was likely to expand its cyber-espionage as its relations with Western powers worsen.
Qasemi also denied reports by Australian media in February that attempts to hack into the Australian parliament’s computer network originated from Iran.
Reuters contributed to this report.