Alleged Israeli ‘spy’ held in Cairo is US immigrant

New Yorker Ilan Grapel was wounded in Second Lebanon War; Mother: He went to Egypt to volunteer with refugees; US State Department envoy meets with jailed suspect.

Ilan Grapel, the alleged Mossad agent arrested on Sunday in Egypt, is an American citizen who served in the IDF Paratroopers Brigade during the Second Lebanon War and interned at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem last summer.
Grapel, 27, originally from New York, moved to Israel after graduating from John Hopkins University in Maryland and enlisted in the IDF.
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He was wounded during fighting against Hezbollah in the southern Lebanese town of Taibe in August 2006.
Grapel’s mother, Irene, told Army Radio that she spoke with her son in a telephone conversation facilitated by the US Embassy in Cairo on Monday, in which he assured her he was not hurt and had been allowed to meet with US diplomats.
Irene Grapel said the allegations against her son were “totally false.” He was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” She told him to “stay strong” and promised him she would get him set free.
According to his mother, Grapel was in Egypt volunteering with an organization that helps refugees.
Daniel Grapel, Ilan’s father, told Channel 2 on Monday night that he was “a million percent” certain that his son had no connection with the Mossad.
“This whole story is totally delusional as far as I am concerned...any connection to working with the Mossad is [wrong],” Daniel Grapel said in an interview in Hebrew from his home in New York.
A State Department official said representatives of the US Embassy had visited Grapel on Monday and were providing him assistance, as is done for all American citizens arrested overseas.
“The embassy will work with local authorities to make sure he is being treated fairly under local law, provide information about the legal system and facilitate communication with family and friends in the US,” the official said.
Egyptian officials in Washington told The Jerusalem Post that he had been arrested at his hotel over the weekend because he was asking questions of people involved in the recent uprising and otherwise trying to monitor the activities of the activists.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said on Monday afternoon that it had yet to receive details from Egypt regarding the arrest of an Israeli citizen. A government source said Israel was assuming that Grapel was the detained Israeli after matching the pictures that appeared in the Egyptian press with those on his Facebook page.
The source said the ministry had updated the State Department about Grapel’s arrest since he is also an American citizen and he reportedly entered Egypt on his American passport.
There’s not a shred of truth to the claim that Grapel was connected to the Mossad, a senior government official traveling with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Monday night.
The Egyptian newspaper Al- Youm Al-Saba’a reported on Monday that Grapel entered Egypt on a fake visa. The report said Grapel entered the country posing as a reporter for an American newspaper and that he planned to secretly follow supporters of deposed president Hosni Mubarak.
In an interview to the New York Daily News in 2006, Irene Grapel said her son decided to enlist in the IDF since he “didn’t want a boring life” and craved some adventure before enrolling in graduate school.
A friend of Grapel’s told the Post on Monday that he had worked as an intern at The Israel Project advocacy organization in 2008 as part of its media fellows program in Jerusalem on “educating top young leaders in how to educate the press on Israel and Iran.”
In a comment that appears on The Israel Project’s Web page about the program, Grapel said he had been impressed by a Foreign Ministry official’s briefing on conveying Israel’s positions to the Arab world.
“It would be very rewarding for me if I were to be able to communicate as effectively [as the official] in such anti- Israel environments,” Grapel wrote.
Grapel studied Arabic and lived for a short period in Druse communities in northern Israel. He frequently traveled throughout the Arab world.
In recent years he was a student at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta and even interned at the Israeli Supreme Court, according to the Emory Law School website.
“You could call him something of an Arabist,” one friend said. Another friend said Grapel was “pro-Arabic” and liked “hanging out in Egypt.”
On his Facebook page, Grapel cited “preaching” at Al-Azhar University in Cairo as his job, certainly a joke.
“He probably went there for an adventure and to see Tahrir Square,” the friend said. “He is very left-wing and has been in Cairo before for months at a time.”
“I was very surprised, and the way I know Ilan he is not like this and has always been concerned with human rights and Palestinian rights,” another friend named Shmuel said.
On Sunday, Judge Hesham Badawi of the Egyptian Supreme State Security Prosecution ordered Grapel detained for 15 days on suspicion of “spying on Egypt with the aim of harming its economic and political interests,” the MENA news agency reported, while claiming that he worked for the Mossad.
One judiciary source said Grapel had been active in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolt against Mubarak, after the president stepped down.
“He was there on a daily basis inciting youths towards sectarian strife. He was distributing money to some of them,” the source said, adding that Grapel had been encouraging young men to clash with the army. The source said youths reported Grapel’s actions.
Hilary Leila Krieger, Reuters and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.