Iran’s IRGC wanted to learn Hebrew, ex-hostage says

'Long ideological rants about normalization between Israel and the Arab Gulf states, and broad sweeping statements about the coming destruction of the Zionist regime.'

Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British-Australian academic who has been released from behind bars in Iran (photo credit: AAP IMAGE/SUPPLIED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE VIA REUTERS)
Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British-Australian academic who has been released from behind bars in Iran
(photo credit: AAP IMAGE/SUPPLIED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE VIA REUTERS)

The jaw-dropping new book The Uncaged Sky by the Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert about the seizure of her as a hostage from 2018-2020 reveals that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sought to learn Hebrew from her, presumably for espionage purposes.

A riveting section of Moore-Gilbert’s account of her captivity states that Mohammad Reza, an IRGC official who interrogated her, said to Moore-Gilbert: “Have you thought about what you can offer us? You need to come to us with an offer. Can I make a suggestion? You speak Hebrew. You could give us lessons.”

Moore-Gilbert wrote “My eyes widened in surprise. The Revolutionary Guards want me to teach them Hebrew! The thought of me in a classroom teaching the Jewish language to a room full of antisemitic Islamic extremists was both intriguing and frightening.“

She told Reza that “If you agree to free me from prison and send me home. I would be willing to teach you Hebrew. But I’m not willing to spy for you. I am not a spy, and I have no interest in being one.” 

A prisoner swap, and not Hebrew lessons, eventually secured Moore-Gilbert's freedom in November 2020. Thailand's government released three convicted  Iranians who plotted a bomb explosion in Bangkok in 2012 in exchange for Moore-Gilbert's release.

 The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER) The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER)

The Middle East academic Moore-Gilbert was imprisoned for 804 days in the Islamic Republic’s brutal penal system on trumped-up charges that she was an Israeli spy.

The US sanctioned the IRGC as a foreign terrorist entity.

Moore-Gilbert told her IRGC interrogators that she studied Hebrew in Israel and Arabic in the course of her academic study and visited Arab countries. “This was the wrong thing to say, it would turn out, but I didn’t realise it at the time,”  she noted.

Reza asked Moore-Gilbert “Who is your ben zug?” She responded “Who is my what?,” adding “ I knew full well what he was asking. Ben zug is Hebrew for ‘partner’. He was asking about my husband."

She told Reza that “I don’t know what you are talking about, sorry.” His response:” ‘You speak Hebrew, don’t you? You’ve been to Israel.”  

Reza said “in broken Hebrew, he said, ‘How many times you visit Israel?’”

Moore-Gilbert wrote “pretending I didn’t understand. ‘Sorry,’ I said in English, ‘it’s been years since I studied Hebrew…’”

Moore-Gilbert noted that Reza was using a fictitious name.

A second IRGC interrogator asked the academic: ”How many times have you visited the Zionist regime?”

Moore-Gilbert’s ex-husband, Ruslan Hodorov, is Israeli.

“Despite their interest in my husband and his connection to Israel, it was clear that the reason for my arrest was my research into the Shi’a community in Bahrain and its ties with Iran. The men performed all sorts of rhetorical acrobatics to try to link these two subjects, and thereby craft a narrative explaining why somebody allegedly spying for Israel would be interested in religious and cultural links between Bahrain and Iran,” she wrote.

She continued that “However, they were never able to properly make sense of this, nor find any convincing reason as to why Israeli intelligence would be interested in such a niche subject to the extent that they would send a random Australian academic on a highly dangerous ‘mission’ to Iran to gather information.”

According to Moore-Gilbert, "The weak points in the men’s logic were often substituted with long ideological rants about ‘normalization’ between Israel and the Arab Gulf states, and broad sweeping statements about the coming destruction of the ‘Zionist regime.'"

Iran's opaque judiciary filed bogus spy charges against Moore-Gilbert and sentenced her to a prison term of 10 years. "You are charged with cooperation in espionage for the tyrannical Zionist regime. Apparently ‘tyrannical Zionist regime’ (rejim-e ghaseb-e sohyoonisti) is an official legal term in Iran,"' wrote Moore-Gilbert.

The Jerusalem Post's literary section is slated to review Moore-Gilbert's book.