Shin Bet thwarted Iranian attempt to recruit Israelis as spies

Israeli citizens were in contact with an Iranian intelligence agent, known as Rambud Namdar, and were recruited to carry out missions.

  Iranian agent "Rambud Namdar." (Composite image)  (photo credit: Shin Bet/Lisi Niesner/Reuters)
Iranian agent "Rambud Namdar." (Composite image)
(photo credit: Shin Bet/Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has arrested five Israelis who had been recruited by an Iranian intelligence agent to whom they sent photographs and other information, the agency revealed on Tuesday.

The investigation was carried out by the Shin Bet and Israel Police after it was suspected that a number of citizens were in contact with an Iranian intelligence agent known as Rambud Namdar, who recruited the Israelis to carry out missions within the country.

The suspects, four women and one man from the center of the country, met Namdar, who said on Facebook that he was a Jew living in Iran. According to the agency, Rambud requested from all suspects that instead of being in contact on Facebook, they would talk on WhatsApp, where he also video chatted.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the Shin Bet for stopping the spy ring.

“Israel is in a campaign against Iran,” he said. “We see clear efforts and incessant attempts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to recruit Israeli citizens.”

Facebook account of Iranian agent ''Rambud Namdar.'' (credit: SHIN BET)Facebook account of Iranian agent ''Rambud Namdar.'' (credit: SHIN BET)

Iran is not only trying to attack Israel physically, but is also coming after Israeli civilians and society, to try to sow divisions and destabilize Israel politically, the prime minister warned.

“I call on citizens of Israel to be aware of these attempts,” Bennett said. “The person behind the information you are consuming or sharing online may be the Iranians. Let there be no doubt, the long arm of Israel’s security forces will reach anyone who tries to harm Israel’s security.”

Namdar never showed his face to the women, claiming the camera on his phone was broken. While some of the women suspected he was an Iranian intelligence officer, they continued to speak with him and agreed to carry out requests he made in exchange for money, the agency said.

One of the suspects, along with her husband, had been in contact with Namdar for several years. The 40-year-old resident of Holon suspected that he was acting on behalf of Iranian authorities as an intelligence agent. Nevertheless, she took secret pictures of the US embassy in Tel Aviv, pictures inside the Interior and Social Affairs and Social Services ministries buildings in the city, and also gave him information on security arrangements and pictures of a mall in Holon.

“The investigation revealed that the suspect’s husband was aware of her connections with Namdar, and even spoke to Namdar himself, although he suspected that he was an Iranian intelligence agent,” the Shin Bet said. It also said that the husband, a taxi driver, even helped his wife by bringing her to the US embassy in Tel Aviv so she could take pictures there.

Not only did Namdar ask her to gather intelligence on senior defense establishment officers, she was also asked to tell her son, who was about to be drafted into the IDF, to serve in Military Intelligence. Until the son’s draft date, he spoke with Namdar by phone and asked him to give his opinion on the Persian language. The son was not aware of who he was.

Another suspect, a 57-year-old resident of Beit Shemesh, was in contact with Namdar for more than four years. She carried out various requests, including telling her son to serve in the Intelligence Corps, and to pass along military documents belonging to her son as well as photos and videos from her son’s enlistment ceremony.

She was also asked to establish a club for Iranians in Beit Shemesh, and transfer all the details of who was active in the branch as well as photos and videos of club activity; take pictures of the ballot box during the election of the 23rd Knesset; photograph the American Embassy in Jerusalem, something she failed to do because of local security guards; and approach a Knesset member and pass on information about the relationship between them. She was also asked to perform additional tasks such as buying a computer and cellphone.

She received a total of $5,000 for the various tasks she carried out for Namdar.

A 47-year-old resident of Kfar Saba was also arrested on suspicion of having transferred money from Namdar on two different occasions. The funds were received through a relative who came from Iran to visit Israel, as well as during a meeting with one of Namdar’s emissaries in Turkey.

A 50-year-old resident of Jerusalem was the fifth person arrested in the case. She was in contact with Namdar for about a year and a half until her arrest. The agency said that she received 1,240 Australian dollars in exchange for various business ventures and charity projects in which she participated.

All the defendants are Israelis of Iranian descent. The four women involved have been indicted on charges of making contact with a foreign agent and face a maximum sentence of 15 years. The names of those involved have been banned from publication following a gag order issued at the request of the suspects’ defense attorneys.

According to Haaretz, the suspects have been in jail, two of them since November, but that “the Shin Bet, the police and the state prosecutor did not make that known until Tuesday.” The report also said they were prevented from meeting with their lawyers for the first 10 days of their detention.

“This is a serious case, in which there was the intention to establish a spy network for Iran, operating within the State of Israel,” said a senior Shin Bet official.

Though the suspects said they had no intention of harming Israeli security, “with their heinous acts, those involved endangered themselves, their family members and innocent Israeli citizens, whose details were passed on to Iranian intelligence, in addition to information passed on about Israeli and American targets in Israel in a way that could be used for terrorist purposes,” said the Shin Bet official, who added that there has been an increase by Iranian intelligence agents reaching out to Israeli citizens in an attempt to gather intelligence that can assist the Islamic Republic in its fight against Israel.

“We call on the citizens of the State of Israel to be vigilant in the face of an unusual request that they have received online,” the Shin Bet said, adding that the agency “will continue to thwart Iranian intelligence activities, including monitoring its activities on social networks.”

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.