Iranian blogger arrested as Israeli spy

Hossein Derakhshan had told 'Post' on his trips here that he sought to 'humanize' Iranian-Israel relations.

iranian blogger Houssein Derakhshan 248 (photo credit: Orly Halperin)
iranian blogger Houssein Derakhshan 248
(photo credit: Orly Halperin)
An Iranian blogger who visited Israel at least twice in the past three years, and who was twice interviewed here by The Jerusalem Post about his efforts to "humanize" Israel for Iranians and vice-versa, has reportedly been arrested in Teheran and admitted to spying for Israel. According to a report in Jahan News, which is close to Iran's intelligence community, quoted by the Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar, the blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, returned to Iran about three weeks ago, having previously been based in Canada. "Prior to his return," Javedanfar writes on his Web site, Derakhshan had "started attacking [former Iranian president] Ayatollah [Hashemi] Rafsanjani in his blog. It is possible that he fell foul of a power struggle within Iran." After his second visit to Israel, Javedanfar also writes, Derakshan "suddenly changed his opinion and started becoming vehemently anti-Israel in his blog." He also became a strong supporter of Ahmadinejad, says Javedanfar, and condemned advocates of regime change. The Iranian report quoted the caption of a picture of Derakhshan walking down Jerusalem's Jaffa Road, which reads: "I want to humanize Israel for Iranians and tell them it's not what the Islamic propaganda machine is saying - that Israelis are thirsty for Muslim blood." The picture and caption appeared in the on-line version of the Post's interview with Derakhshan in January 2007. Derakhshan, 33, is credited with having popularized the concept of the Web log in Iran. He first visited Israel in 2006, when he told the Post he knew his visit here would mean he could never return to his homeland. "But it's worth it," he said at the time. He blogged from Tel Aviv that "I've publicly come to Israel to break a big taboo and to be a bridge between Iranian and Israeli people who are manipulated by their own governments' and media's dehumanizing attitude, especially now that the possibility of some sort of violent clash is higher than ever." He subsequently posted photographs and videos of Israel on the Farsi-language blog, which was being read at the time by some 20,000 Iranians, who had to bypass a filter Iran had placed on it. Returning to Israel in 2007, when he addressed a conference on "Reform and Resistance in the Middle East" at Ben-Gurion University, he told the Post, "Those were the first videos any Iranian has been able to see about ordinary daily life in Israel. I want to humanize Israel for Iranians and tell them it's not what the Islamic propaganda machine is saying - that Israelis are thirsty for Muslim blood. And I want to show Israel that the average Iranian isn't even thinking about doing harm to Israel. I want them to see Iranians who don't look like [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad." He also told the Post on that trip that he supported Iran's secret drive for nuclear weapons, for strategic reasons. "We need it as a deterrent," he said - not against Israel, but against the United States. He said he favored continuation of the Islamic republic in Iran, although in more enlightened form. "I support any government that attempts to marry democracy and religion," he said. "The system in Iran is democratic enough to permit change through elections... We can gradually change Iran. We are already doing it." He said Iran was "deliberately misrepresented by the Western media," and that "If there is a war between Iran and the United States," he would fly home to fight for his country. The son of a rug manufacturer in Teheran, Derakhshan began playing with video games as a teenager and was among the first generation in his country to take up computers. He began writing a computer column for a widely read reformist newspaper and began blogging after the 9/11 terror attacks, when "I discovered the New York-based blogs describing people's feelings there." He moved to Canada in 2002, married an Iranian woman, and subsequently divorced. He spent two weeks here on the 2007 trip, and told the Post, "Tel Aviv is a city I could live in. It's a mix of Middle East and European values and lifestyle. If Iran opens up a bit more and could have public bars, Teheran would beat Tel Aviv." He also predicted Israeli-Iranian peace within five years. The Jahan News report, as quoted by Javedanfar, mentions Derakhshan's participation in a number of conferences in Israel. It says that Haaretz described him as a friend of Israel, and quotes the Post and Haaretz as saying that he had described Israel as a model of democracy, and the Israeli and Turkish systems of governance and participation of religion in government as good models for Iran.