Israeli student indicted for aiding Hizbullah

Khaled Kashkush allegedly given €13,000 to carry out missions while studying medicine in Frankfurt.

Khaled Kashkush (photo credit: Courtesy)
Khaled Kashkush
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An Israeli Arab studying medicine in Germany was indicted Wednesday for allegedly joining Hizbullah and carrying out missions at the organization's behest, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has announced. Khaled Kashkush, 29, from Kalansuwa just east of Netanya was contacted by a Hizbullah operative in Germany and was paid a total of €13,000 for information on his village and Israeli hospitals, as well as a list of Israelis living abroad who could serve as Hizbullah spies, according to the Shin Bet. He was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport on July 16 in a joint Shin Bet-Israel Police operation. According to the indictment, Kashkush, who studied in the university town of Gottingen, Lower Saxony, was first approached by Dr. Hisham Hassan, a Lebanese man who heads a German charity that the Shin Bet said was known to funnel funds to Hizbullah. Hassan's charity is called the Waisenkinderprojekt Libanon e.V, and, according to the Shin Bet, transfers money to a Hizbullah fund that has been outlawed in Israel. Following several meetings, Hassan suggested that Kashkush meet and develop business contacts with another Lebanese national, identified as Rami. In December 2005, Kashkush met Rami - who later gave his last name as Mazen - and was asked to purchase a new cellphone and to make contact only via e-mail. In their second meeting, a year later, Mazen revealed to Kashkush that he was a Hizbullah operative. The two met again in April 2007 and January 2008 in different cities in Germany. The operative, the Shin Bet said, was known to Israeli security forces as Muhammad Hashem, 50, who is an experienced and senior Hizbullah operative. Hashem travels frequently throughout the world to meet with Hizbullah agents and pass on instructions and funds. In a rare step, the Shin Bet released Hashem's photo. He has not been apprehended and the release of the photo is likely an attempt by the security agency to notify foreign governments of the Hizbullah operative's true identity. According to the indictment, Kashkush gave Hashem information about other Israeli Arabs who could potentially be recruited, the layout of his hometown and information about an internship of his at an Israeli hospital. He was briefed on how to avoid detection by Israeli authorities and was told by the Hizbullah agent to get a job at an Israeli hospital where he would be able to gather intelligence on hospitalized soldiers and security personnel. The fact that Hizbullah is not outlawed in Europe, the Shin Bet said, "allows the organization to act without hindrance to recruit and run agents, while using supposedly legitimate platforms like foundations and charities." Amnon Zichroni, Kashkush's attorney, said his client "did not actually cause damage to national security. I read the indictment and that's my impression." Zichroni described the charges as minor, saying he did not view the "sending of 1,200 letters on when to break the Ramadan fast" as a major threat to Israel's security. "It is absurd to think that this is the real threat," Zichroni said. On the other hand, he praised state prosecutors for "not exaggerating the charges as they have done in the past." Zichroni also blasted the Shin Bet for releasing photographs of Kashkush's alleged handler Muhammad Hashem and additional suspects. "This was very surprising," Zichroni said, referring to the release of the photographs. "The Shin Bet has leaked material which is part of the evidence that should have been supplied to the defendant's legal representative. The media received this material before the lawyer of the accused did. The Shin Bet is not allowed to leak material, it goes against good taste and violates proper regulations." Zichroni said he had spoken to his client a number of times since the arrest. "He is a young man. I don't sense any mental health problems," he said. Ch.-Supt. Rafi Nuriel of the Israel Police's National Serious and International Crime Unit said Kashkush's activities in Germany undoubtedly formed a major security threat to state security. "The question is, how do you define a real threat? The fact that Hizbullah was attempting to use Kashkush to recruit others, asking him to locate people with financial problems or drug addicts with a view to exploit those weaknesses to get information out, is very serious," he said. "The fact that the suspect knew the identify of the organization he was dealing with and that he knew what its goals were before meeting with its operatives is serious enough," Nuriel added. "Hizbullah is interested in what is happening here and their targeting of Arab Israel is natural because they are citizens and are free to move around here, so it's fair to assume that this type of recruitment is a main goal for Hizbullah." While Nuriel said it would be unfounded to describe the recruitment attempt targeting Arab Israelis as a wide-spread phenomenon, the latest case "is disturbing" "and we need to stay alert." Israel believes Hizbullah has an entire branch dedicated to drafting spies in Israel, particularly among its Arab citizens. Several Israeli Arabs have been arrested in recent years over ties to the group, including an army colonel who was convicted of espionage for passing information to them. Ahmad Hoteit, a representative of Hassan's charity, Waisenkinderprojekt Libanon e.V, declined to respond to the allegations and said Hassan could not immediately be reached. AP contributed to this report.