Court acquits Israeli woman of being an Iranian spy - 4 other defendants may still be convicted

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday acquitted a 50-year-old Iranian-Israeli woman of spying for Tehran, as part of a wider case.

  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 Jerusalem District Court on Monday acquitted a 50-year-old Iranian-Israeli woman of spying for Tehran, in the first decision in a wider case involving four other defendants also accused of spying.

It is rare that Israelis are accused of spying for the Islamic Republic and even more rare for them to be acquitted once the state, and usually the Shin Bet, has gone to the trouble of tracking, probing and indicting them.

The state prosecution said it still believed it had a basis to indict and convict, citing the defendant's own testimony that she was suspicious about the Iranian agent she was communicating with, and said it may still appeal the decision.

In January, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced it had arrested five Israelis who had been recruited by an Iranian intelligence agent to whom they sent photographs and other information.

The investigation was carried out by the Shin Bet and the 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.

District Court of Jerusalem (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)District Court of Jerusalem (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

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.

Why did the court acquit the defendant? 

The court acquitted the defendant-woman on Monday noting that it found her testimony in her defense both in court and during her interrogations believable.

According to her version of events, she never gave anything damaging to Namdar and did not realize he was an Iranian intelligence agent.

In fact, the court highlighted that the prosecution did not even bother to cross-examine the defendant, an unusual move when seeking to convict someone who denies they committed a crime.

It appears that the prosecution argued that the lower-grade crime of contact with a foreign agent does not require actual harm to Israel, only a failure to report to the state that one has been contacted by such a foreign agent.

The court said that given that the defendant did not harm the state and her intent was not to harm the state, that the full balance of her circumstances needed to be analyzed.

It said that she had taken some precautions to try to check Namdar’s identity to ensure that he was not a negative influence and that just because he fooled her with sophisticated lies did not mean she could be convicted.

The defendant was in contact with Namdar for about a year and a half until her arrest. The court said that she received 1,240 Australian dollars in exchange for various business ventures and charity projects in which she participated.

The other defendants

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, when indicted theoretically could have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years – though this seems unlikely with the current developments.

Still, some of the other women undertook larger acts for Namdar and may still be convicted.

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

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.”

The names of those involved have been banned from publication following a gag order issued at the request of the suspects’ defense attorneys.

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this story.