Three Israeli citizens from northern Israel were indicted for helping build a cyber threat against communications infrastructure used by the IDF and for providing sensitive information to the Hamas terrorist movement in Turkey, the Shin Bet, the State Attorney's Office and Israel Police revealed on Thursday.
The main suspect in the case, identified as R.A., worked as a software engineer at Cellcom, which provides services to the IDF and police. The suspect had broad access privileges to the company's computer and information systems.
In 2017, R.A. met with Hamas officials in Turkey through the mediation of Ashraf Hassan, an Israeli citizen who served as a Hamas operative. R.A. transferred sensitive information about communication infrastructures in Israel to Hamas in order to help the terrorist movement damage this infrastructure during a conflict.
In 2021 and 2022, R.A. met with Hamas military official Azzam Akra who asked him to provide any information that would help Hamas's operations.
Both Hassan and Akra operate under the command of Saleh al-Arouri, who is responsible for Hamas activities in the West Bank. Akra requested access to Cellcom's computer and information systems during the meetings.
After returning to Israel, R.A. proceeded to meet with a second suspect identified as S.A. in order to obtain information about the weak points in Cellcom's systems. S.A., who served as an external consultant at Cellcom, was aware that R.A. was gathering this information for Hamas with the goal of disrupting Cellcom's systems during a war or military operation and provided him with the information he requested.
Additionally, starting in about 2015, R.A. and S.A. began to discuss among themselves ways to disable or disrupt Cellcom's systems out of a common desire to help Palestinian terrorists attacking Israel.
The announcement by the Shin Bet, State Attorney and Israel Police stresed that the suspects endangered national security in a "very real and serious way," but added that their arrest and interrogation thwarted Hamas's attempts to gather even more extensive information and cause damage to Israeli communication infrastructure.
R.A.'s brother, identified as Z.A., was also in contact with Ashraf and met him at least three times. In one of the meetings, R.A. asked Z.A. to convey a request by him to have secure communications in order to avoid surveillance and monitoring by Israeli authorities.
R.A. was indicted on charges of aiding the enemy in war, providing information to the enemy with the intention of harming national security, contact with a foreign agent, destroying evidence and conspiring to aid the enemy in war. S.A was indicted on charges of providing information to the enemy with the intention of harming national security and conspiring to aid the enemy in war. Z.A. was indicted on charges of contact with a foreign agent.
"The Shin Bet together with Israel Police will continue to work to locate and thwart all the activities of the terrorist organizations working against Israeli citizens and will work to bring to justice those who took part in activities that constitute an injury to national security," read the announcement.
Cellcom stresses that it acted according to instructions from authorities
Cellcom responded to the announcement on Thursday, condemning the incident and stressing that it worked closely with authorities in order to thwart any potential damage and advance the investigation.
"After a thorough examination, there is no indication of causing damage to Cellcom customers and there is no fear of leaking personal information about customers...All the security officials determined that there was no flaw in the company's conduct," said Cellcom. "Cellcom is routinely guided by all security agencies and complies with their strictest conditions and rules, as part of its commitment as a leading Israeli communications company."
The company added that the accused employee and the external consultant were fired immediately.
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel stressed that the incident was a "serious security issue" as "communication companies are a sensitive strategic target in the field of cyber and in the field of human capital."
Hendel added that officials at the Communications Ministry will conduct a comprehensive investigation into the incident and examine whether it is possible to improve the filtering and protection mechanisms.
"From the moment the threat was identified by the security forces, Cellcom acted as expected, with professionalism and commitment to the security of the State of Israel and its customers," said Hendel, pointing out that telecommunications companies in Israel are an attractive target for cyberattacks.