Iran has been making concerted efforts to recruit Israelis as spies during their visits to relatives in the Islamic Republic, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said on Tuesday. The Shin Bet has, over the past two years, questioned about 10 Israelis, some of them Jews, who are suspected of agreeing to spy for Iran during visits to the country. While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called repeatedly for the destruction of Israel, Iran is not officially considered an enemy state, and Israelis can travel freely to the country if granted entry papers by Teheran. Some 25,000 Jews live in Iran.
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Over the past two years, approximately 100 Israelis have applied for visas to Iran; after questioning, the Shin Bet discovered that 10 of them have been recruited to spy for Teheran.
"The Iranians are intensively collecting intelligence on the State of Israel," a senior Shin Bet official said.
The official said it was imperative that legislation be passed defining Iran as an enemy country, to prevent Israelis from traveling there.
The recent recruitment effort began at Teheran's consulate in Istanbul, where Israelis apply for Iranian travel documents. Since the Islamic Republic does not allow anyone into the country whose passport bears an Israeli entrance stamp, Israelis who want to travel there must get documents at the consulate that allow them into Iran, or they take out an Iranian passport.
During their visits to the consulate, the Israelis have been taken to side rooms and questioned - under pressure - for several hours. They were asked about their military background, their family and their jobs. The Shin Bet said Iranian intelligence gathering focused on three points: Israel's decision-making echelon; Israel's military and defense establishments; and the strengths and weaknesses of its society.
After questioning the 10 espionage suspects, it emerged that Iranian intelligence officers disguised as diplomats work at the consulate in Turkey. The Shin Bet identified one of those officers as "Takwi," also known as "Abdulli," and another called "Zinali." After the initial contact at the consulate, Israelis arriving in Iran are taken again for questioning and, in many cases, their travel documents are confiscated. Some are stuck in Iran for several months, the Shin Bet said.
The Israelis are then contacted again with an offer to help them trace their documents and leave Iran. Once the documents are returned, the Israelis are usually asked to begin gathering information to pass on to their handlers.
In some cases, the Israelis were requested to obtain research papers and photos of classified military installations in exchange for thousands of dollars. Sometimes, Iran hinted that a refusal to cooperate would meet with a negative response. Iranian intelligence has been known to arrest Israeli citizens' relatives in Iran.
One Israeli who was detained for questioning by the Shin Bet upon his return to Israel told his interrogators that Iranian agents had asked him to recruit a relative who had worked for an Israeli security service.