Senior government officials ordered law enforcement to lift a gag order on the arrest of an Iranian with Belgian citizenship accused of spying for Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards, a police official said Monday, indicating that the timing of the move, as Israel is fighting an Iranian charm offensive, was political in nature.
The detention of Ali Mansouri, arrested in Israel by the Shin Bet security service earlier this month on suspicion of spying on American and Israeli security interests in Israel, was extended for a further eight days in a Monday remand hearing in the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court.
During the court proceedings, a police representative said that the gag order on the case was suddenly lifted Sunday by high-level government officials, indicating that the timing, coinciding with a trip to the US by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which he will attempt to combat a recent turn toward Tehran by the West, was not accidental.
Mansouri was arrested at Ben Gurion International Airport on September 11 by the Shin Bet while attempting to depart Israel for Belgium, the security agency said Sunday.
Officials believe Mansouri, who changed his name to Alex Mans while living in Belgium, is an agent of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards whose main mission was to spy on American interests inside Israel. He had been observed photographing the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and recording activity there while staying at a hotel opposite the site, according to the Shin Bet.
Mansouri was found with photographs of the US Embassy and other potentially sensitive locations. The Shin Bet said Monday that it was investigating whether Mansouri’s handlers received digital copies of the surveillance photos and whether he was tasked with observing IDF bases or soldiers.
As the gag order on the arrest was lifted Sunday morning, Netanyahu was making his way to New York to deliver a speech at the UN widely expected to attempt to refocus world attention on Iran’s nuclear program. A member of the prime minister’s delegation to New York said Sunday that the arrest was proof that Iranian attempts at detente with the West had not changed its actions on the ground.
“At a time when Iran is trying to get closer to the US, it sent an agent to try to gather intelligence in order to carry out a terror attack against the American Embassy in Israel,” the official said. “This is just one further example of Iran’s policy of doublespeak and further proof that Iran’s words do not match its actions.”
Mansouri said during questioning that he was promised $1 million in exchange for his activities inside Israel, and described how he was recruited by the special operations unit of the Revolutionary Guards.
Mansouri said he was deprived of sleep and bound to a chair during his Shin Bet investigation, Channel 2 News reported Sunday night. He said he was not hit or hurt during questioning, the report added.
The suspect’s attorney was quoted by Channel 2 saying that his client’s situation was more complex than reports indicate, but that “he has no agenda against Israel.”
Mansouri has visited Israel several times and was under surveillance by Israeli intelligence. According to the Shin Bet, Mansouri, a businessman, hid any sign of his Iranian origin and was looking to establish business interests in Israel that could serve as fronts for Iranian intelligence activities in the Jewish state.
The aim was to establish a front behind which the Revolutionary Guards could operate in Israel, against Israel, Channel 10 news reported Sunday night. A subsequent stage would have been to send terrorists to Israel to carry out attacks, it added.
Mansouri left Iran in 1980, lived in Turkey until 1997 and then moved to Belgium on a business visa, where in 2006 he obtained citizenship by marrying a Belgian citizen, whom he later divorced, the Shin Bet said. In 2007, Mansouri returned to Iran and established an international business with interests in Iran, Belgium and Turkey.
One of the companies Mansouri established was called European Folded Glass System, Channel 2 reported. The company’s amateurish website, which states proudly that EFGS is “Big Company in Europe,” is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. Alex Mans is listed as the manager, and a Belgian address and phone number are given on the site.