Social networks have rushed to baptize it as the “network of spies grannies” in an unexpected twist to the underground war waged by Israel and Iran. The Shin Bet, the Israeli counter-intelligence service, announced on Wednesday the dismantling of the plot after the arrest of four middle-aged women – three of whom already have grandchildren, as is usual in Israel, Reuters confirms – and Iranian ancestry. . They are accused of obtaining information for a Tehran agent who caught them online and sent them sums of money. The husband of one of them, who helped her on a mission, has also been arrested.
A handsome man named Rambod Namdar —according to the images on his Facebook profile— contacted the four women of Israeli nationality, aged between 47 and 57, through WhatsApp posing as a member of the Iranian Jewish minority who wanted to emigrate to Israel, as they themselves or their families had done in the past .
What began as a friendly relationship between civilians led to the systematic sending of photographs of official Israeli centers and a United States diplomatic headquarters. The brain of the plot asked one of the women, a masseuse by profession, to photograph a deputy naked to blackmail her. He also required two of them so that their children would enlist in the Army intelligence unit when they completed their military service.
“The accusation of espionage against the network made up of Israelis of Iranian origin is a mixture of serious crimes and comic comedy,” he maintains. Amos Harel, security analyst for the newspaper Haaretz. “Maybe it was due to his personal charm [de Namdar] or because the gifts and sums he sent made the recipients fall in love. But, despite the fact that they suspected that it was an attempt to capture them as spies, they all continued to maintain contact through the internet”, argues this expert. In addition, they accepted more commissions from the handsome Iranian Jew and received sums of up to 5,000 dollars (4,375 euros) in return.
The Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, in collaboration with the Yahbal, the international investigative police brigade, have filed charges with the State Prosecutor’s Office against the five detainees – whose identities remain under summary secrecy – that can carry long sentences of prison, despite the fact that none of them managed to gain access to national security secrets. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett used the occasion to warn citizens to be careful with their contacts on social networks.
One of the detainees’ lawyers argued before the television cameras that his client was only trying to help an Iranian who aspired to emigrate to Israel, and for this reason he showed him “photographs of the country so that he could get used to it.” Among the images that he sent to Namdar were several of the US legation in Tel Aviv, of the Ministry of the Interior and government offices and those of a shopping center.
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The security analysts of the Hebrew press believe that the plot now dismantled was part of an initial phase of recruitment of informants in Israel, focused on simple objectives, in order to evaluate the capabilities of future agents. as it ensures Amos Harel, “The fall of this network also confirms the growing phenomenon of the disappearance of human agents in recruiting informants and their replacement by virtual agents in social networks, in an era marked by the closure of borders.”
One of the arrested women, 57 years old and a resident of Bet Shemesh, a town in the province of Jerusalem, was entrusted via WhatsApp with the mission of organizing a club of Israelis of Iranian descent (the Jewish community originally from Iran is around the 70,000 people) in order to collect your personal data. It is estimated that there are still some 12,000 Jews living in Iran, who have their right recognized as a minority with representation in Parliament.
The oldest detainee was also asked to infiltrate one of her sons in the Army’s cyber warfare unit, which specializes in computer attacks against nuclear centers and strategic facilities in Iran. Another of the women in the plot, 50 years old and a resident of Jerusalem, collaborated in the organization of charity acts for the community of Iranian origin in Israel.
Iranian money in a suburb of Tel Aviv
A third member of the plot, 47 years old and a resident of Kfar Saba, in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, came to receive money from Namdar through an Iranian relative who had traveled to Israel to visit her. The mission of the fourth detained woman, whose age (in her forties) was not specified and who lives in Holon, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv, was the most risky. His movements were detected by security guards at the United States diplomatic mission. This suspect maintained a relationship of digital contacts with the brain of the network in Tehran for several years and also tried to enlist her son in the military intelligence services. Her husband accompanied her on at least one of the prescribed espionage missions.
The statement of charges presented by the Shin Bet also records shades of farce that have triggered grotesque comments on the social networks of the Jewish State. The Bet Shemesh masseuse contacted the Member of the Likud (Conservative) Party Keti Shitrit, who does not hold prominent positions in the parliamentary group of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He offered her a therapeutic massage with the aim of photographing and recording her naked. Another of those arrested was commissioned to obtain a role as an extra in the Israeli series Teheran, which revolves around the adventures of an Israeli spy in the capital of Iran.
Almost all the missions entrusted to the networks by the gallant agent Namdar failed and barely achieved their purpose. The fall of the so-called granny spy plot now brings him closer to the bungling record of Inspector Clouseau, buffoon from the litany of The Pink Panther, than to the ruthless service record of General Javadi, the villainous chief of Iranian intelligence in the series Homeland.
The former minister who sold himself to the enemy
Iranian espionage has also scored somewhat in Israel. Former Minister Gonen Segev, who held the Energy portfolio between 1995 and 1996, was sentenced in 2019 to 11 years for spying for Iran and helping the enemy in wartime. He was extradited to the Jewish state in 2018 after being detained in Equatorial Guinea. Segev, 65, shone as a captain in the Air Force, graduated as a doctor from Ben Gurion University and in 1992 was elected deputy. Three years later, he was appointed minister in the coalition government led by Yitzhak Rabin. He thought that the time had come to also succeed as an entrepreneur in his country. Apparently, he didn’t make it.
Counterintelligence detected that the former minister had been recruited by Iranian intelligence in 2012 in Nigeria. He came to meet with those responsible for the network on Iranian territory. He passed on information about the Israeli energy market, the location of critical infrastructure, and high-ranking political and security service officials. For this, Segev used the contacts he had in the defense and diplomatic sectors. He even tried to recruit some of his informants to incorporate them into the Iranian espionage network in Israel.