Court lifts gag order on man accused of spying for Iran

Natorei Karta’s Yitzhak Bergel remanded into custody; Bergel to be held until end of trial over charges of intent to commit treason.

Hezbollah Seikh Kawooq greets delegates of Natorei Karta 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hezbollah Seikh Kawooq greets delegates of Natorei Karta 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Natorei Karta sect member accused of spying for Iran was named as Yitzhak Bergel on Wednesday after the Jerusalem District Court removed a gag order on his identity.
The court also ruled that Bergel be held in custody until his trial is concluded.
Bergel was indicted last week on charges of intent to commit treason and contacting a foreign agent. He allegedly met with Iranian representatives in Berlin in 2011 with the intent of sending them sensitive information on Israel.
Bergel’s lawyer, Yair Nehorai, claimed on Monday that he had only confessed to the crime because his Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogators had not allowed him access to legal counsel.
Nehorai had said that Bergel had been treated so aggressively by the Shin Bet that they made him feel like “Prisoner X.”
Nehorai’s main claim was that the Shin Bet had arrested his client on July 17, interrogated him improperly and kept him from speaking to a lawyer despite his request to speak to one.
Further, Nehorai said that the Shin Bet questioned Bergel for so long and under improper conditions such as constant exposure to penetrating light that when he confessed, he felt isolated to the point of thinking he was like a “Prisoner X,” with no rights.
He said that this tainted and should disqualify any confession obtained by the Shin Bet.
Next, he argued that a psychiatrist should evaluate his client as he may be mentally incompetent to stand trial.
The court said that these issues would be debated at trial, and that raising them in the context of the issue of whether Bergel would be kept in police custody during the trial was improper.
The court rejected the request to have Bergel examined by a psychiatrist, finding that his statements indicated that he was of sound mind.
At an unknown date, the suspect, 47, decided to make contact with the Iranian government to collect intelligence on Israel and send it to them, the indictment alleged.
The indictment said that on January 16, 2011, he flew to Berlin and two days later, approached the Iranian Embassy to say that he was an Israeli and wanted to speak to them. At the time he was clothed in his regular haredi dress, including black and white clothes, and tzizit ritual undergarments.
He was brought to Iranian representatives, including a man who introduced himself as Hagi Baba and two others, said the indictment.
According to the indictment, he told Baba that he was against the Jewish state, wanted it to be taken over by non-Jews, was ready to provide them intelligence and even to “kill a Zionist” if necessary.
He baited the Iranians, asking them why they continued to fail to stop sabotage and attacks by Israel within Iran, said the indictment.
The Iranians responded with annoyance, noted the indictment, that he should be embarrassed to insult them when he was coming to the Iranians seeking asylum.
Bergel retorted that he was not seeking asylum, but was seeking to assist with spying, said the indictment.
He returned to Israel on January 20, 2011.
The indictment said Thursday that after returning to Israel he kept up his connection with the Iranian officials using his email account.
One specific place where he checked the email account for messages from the Iranians was the Vital Hotel at 141 Yafo Street in Jerusalem, said the indictment.
Two specific spots where he used public telephone calls to contact the Iranians were on Straus Street and Kanfei Nesharim Street in Jerusalem, according to the indictment.
An ultra-Orthodox sect established in Jerusalem in 1938, Netorei Karta (Aramaic for “Guardians of the City”) believes Israel can be reestablished only after the coming of the Messiah. The group therefore rejects Zionism and opposes the existence of the State of Israel.
Members of the sect in Israel and the US are known to burn the Israeli flag and have sent representatives to attend conferences in Iran in the past.
Last year, Arabic media reported that members of the sect met with Hezbollah officials in Beirut.