Israelis acquitted in Iranian spy case: 'Intention to spy not based on ideology'

The accused were part of a group of five Israelis of Iranian extraction that had been arrested by the Shin Bet and Israel Police in January 2022.

  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)

Two Israeli women and a man were acquitted of passing information and involvement with an alleged Iranian spy who contacted them through Facebook and Whatsapp, Judge Ilan Sela ruled at the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday morning.

The accused were part of a group of five Israelis of Iranian extraction that had been arrested by the Shin Bet and Israel Police in January 2022 after allegedly being recruited by an Iranian agent known as Rambud Namdar to conduct intelligence gathering missions within Israel.

All five were charged for contact with a foreign agent, and defendants one and four were charged with providing information that could benefit the enemy.

Sela described the women as having been contacted by a man identifying to alternatively to different targets as a wealthy Iranian Jew or Muslim from Tehran, and manipulated in a relationship to provide information.

"We're talking about women that were looking for warmth and love, an attentive ear and occasional financial assistance, and Rambud, who is alleged to be a foreign agent, smartly took advantage of this, forged a long relationship, and with great sophistication and manipulation, managed to use them to his needs," read the judgement summary.

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

Intention to spy based on ideology

The judge said that punishments for espionage should have been reserved for those that had intended to spy out of ideological motives, not for those who had been tricked and had no intention of harming the state. Sela said that the defendants were patriots, and had not sought to contact a foreign agent.

Espionage was a serious charge, and a problem to be addressed, but one that could be overcome with the spread of awareness, not punishing the defendants, said Sela. When the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) made the initial announcement of the arrests, the agency called on the public to be more cautious. Even so, Sela said Punishments for espionage should be reserved for those that attempt to harm the state of Israel.

The judge determined that the law about espionage pertained to information that was useful to the enemy. He noted that the  information given to the agent was all available online.

Defendant One was completely fooled by the alleged Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps agent, who saw that he was in a common Facebook group and believed it was safe to interact with him. She had worked to match a relative with him and tried to convince him to immigrate to Israel, showing that she believed he was a Jewish resident of Iran. She was given $4,500 by the Iranian for different tasks.

Sela said that Defendant Four should have been more careful, since she was already wary because he had identified himself as an Iranian Muslim, but she believed that he had not government connections. Defendant Five, the husband of Defendant Four, was also suspicious, but he was not in direct contact with the Iranian, and he was more concerned about a romantic relationship between his wife and Namdar.

The wife sent the alleged agent information, photos, and videos that he requested, in return for news in Iran, which she shared with her media followers. The husband took pictures of the outside of the US embassy in Tel Aviv and the security at the entrance of a Holon mall, but they had refused to pass on media and info about military bases, the Knesset, and the prime minster.

Sela dismissed the charges about contact with a foreign agent because he concluded that there wasn't enough information about Namdar to prove that he was an Iranian agent, an operative of another state, or a foreign agent at all. The Shin Bet was adamant in January that there was a serious attempt to establish an Iranian spy network in Israel

Two other women had previously been acquitted of their espionage charges. One suspect was acquitted in October, having claimed that she had no idea Namdar was a spy and didn't provide him with any information. One of the accused women attempted suicide in August over the allegations.

Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.