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3 Israelis charged in Hamas plot to sabotage telecom networks used by IDF during war

Indictment alleges the trio, 2 of whom worked for Cellcom, provided terror group with large volume of information in order to carry out cyberattack on crucial infrastructure

Illustrative: An IDF soldier speaks on the phone near the Gaza border on August 11, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: An IDF soldier speaks on the phone near the Gaza border on August 11, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Three men from northern Israel were indicted on Thursday for allegedly sending a large volume of sensitive information to the Hamas terror group in Turkey, and for plans to sabotage Israel’s cellular network in a future war.

According to the charge sheet, the trio were accused of committing “grave security offenses” and rendering the infrastructure of one of the country’s largest telecommunications companies vulnerable to a potential cyberattack.

One of the accused — identified only by the Hebrew initials of his first and last names, Resh Ayin — had worked for cellular giant Cellcom since 2004 as a software engineer, the indictment said.

In 2017, out of “ideological identification with Hamas and its goals,” he met officials from the Palestinian terror group while visiting Turkey, according to a joint statement by the Israel Police, the State Attorney’s Office and the Shin Bet security agency.

Resh Ayin was accused of handing the group sensitive information on communications infrastructure in Israel, which he had come across as part of his work.

In 2020 and 2021, Resh Ayin held further meetings with Hamas officials in Turkey, and at Hamas’s request, the employee asked another defendant — a freelance adviser to Cellcom on computer and communications networks, identified by his initials Shin Ayin — to hand him information on the infrastructure’s weak points, while noting this was for use by Hamas.

The two employees had also conspired since 2015 to try to paralyze Cellcom’s networks in wartime, being aware that the networks are used by military and police forces, authorities said.

“The two worked to prepare and accumulate technological means in advance, which would allow them, on a ‘day of action,’ to penetrate computer and information systems, including their critical components, and run software that would disable or severely disrupt the activities of Cellcom’s communications network,” the statement said.

Illustrative: A Cellcom store in Tel Aviv, September 24, 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

They were indicted in the case along with Resh Ayin’s brother, who allegedly also met Hamas officials at least three times.

The three “endangered national security in a concrete and grave way,” the statement said, but their plans were foiled by the security services.

The defendants’ full names and many other details were barred from publication by a court order.

Cellcom said in a statement that it “strongly condemns” the former employees’ actions.

“After a thorough examination, there is no indication of harm to our customers and there is no fear of a leak of personal information about customers,” the company said.

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said his office would hold a “comprehensive investigation” into the “serious” case to understand its scope.

“The telecommunications companies in Israel are an attractive target for cyberattacks and therefore in the last year we have expanded regulation over the issue in order to protect the information of millions of customers and essential infrastructures,” he added in a post on Twitter.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Hamas terrorist movement chief Ismail Haniyeh, prior to their meeting in Istanbul, February 1, 2020. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Turkey has long had close ties with the Gaza Strip-based Hamas, and hosts terror group officials and units in the country.

In July, a Palestinian man was indicted for allegedly establishing a kindergarten and a soup kitchen on orders from Hamas in Turkey, in order to strengthen the terror group’s influence in East Jerusalem.

And in March, four residents of East Jerusalem were indicted over alleged ties to Hamas and meeting with officials of the group in Turkey, with police prosecutors charging some with having planned terrorist attacks.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office announced Thursday that he was slated to travel to Turkey next week for an official trip.

Gantz’s office said he was expected to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, during the trip which was to begin Wednesday.

The planned trip comes two months after Dror Shalom, who heads the ministry’s Political-Military Bureau, met with Turkish defense officials to “renew the lines of security relations between the countries,” the ministry said.

During Shalom’s meetings in Turkey, issues that would be discussed between Gantz and Akar were agreed upon, the ministry added.

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