Until Monday, Gonen Segev was an infamous figure in Israel, but also one considered with derision.
A high-flyer — ex-officer in the IDF, medical doctor, and very young (35) Knesset member who rose to a ministerial position in the mid-1990s — he had crashed spectacularly: Segev was caught in 2004 attempting to smuggle 32,000 ecstasy (MDMA) tablets from the Netherlands into Israel, hidden in boxes of chocolate. His headline-making defense: He thought they were M&Ms, and claimed he had been asked to bring them into the country as presents for a friend.
The courts were not persuaded, and he was convicted of drug smuggling, forgery and fraud. Jailed for five years, he was freed in 2007 with a third of his sentence cut for good behavior.
Stripped of his medical license, Segev left the country and was reported in recent years to be practicing medicine in Nigeria. He treated Israeli staffers at the embassy in Nigeria, and members of the local Jewish community, Hadashot TV said.
Except that, as the Shin Bet security service revealed on Monday, he was also allegedly working as a spy for Iran.
Indicted for assisting the enemy in wartime, spying, and a number of other related crimes, all of sudden Segev, the minister with the “M&Ms,” is a figure of major notoriety rather than ridicule.
Tales of Israelis who spied on the country’s enemies are legion. Tales of Israelis who spy for the country’s enemies are rarer, but not unprecedented.
Israel has seen key figures with access to sensitive information proven to have spied for regimes deeply hostile to Israel, such as the late Marcus Klingberg, for the Soviet Union. It has even seen members of Knesset accused of working for Israel’s enemies, such as Azmi Bishara, for Hezbollah.
But a former minister on the payroll of the Iranians, whose regime is sworn to Israel’s destruction? There is no known precedent for that.
As a politician who had headed the ministries of energy and national infrastructure, and who sat in cabinet meetings, Segev would have had access to sensitive information. How sensitive? How relevant?
Many of the specifics of his case are still barred from publication, which has opened the door for speculation. Hebrew media reports alleged Monday that he had betrayed his country for primarily financial motives. It was said that he had knocked on the door of the Iranian embassy in Nigeria to offer his services. It was theorized that any information he might have been able to give his handlers would not have particularly sensitive or up-to-date given the many years since he held ministerial responsibility.
It was speculated, too, that his defense claim will be that he was trying to mislead the Iranians, and hoped to return home a hero.
But the actual extent of any damage he might have caused remains, for now, in the realm of the unknown.
What is clear is the extent of his alleged gall. Two years ago, by which time he had allegedly been working for the Iranians for four years, he requested — in vain — that the Health Ministry reinstate his medical license so that he could return to Israel and to his medical career.
He gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 TV news at the time in which he declared: “I’ve decided I’m not coming back to Israel unless I can return with my head held high as ‘Dr. Gonen Segev’ with a permit to work… not as ‘the former convict Gonen Segev.'”
“I served my time” in jail, he said, adding that he’d also spent years in exile. It was time for Israel, he asserted, to enable him to close that chapter of his life. “It’s enough,” he lamented. “Isn’t the public satisfied?”
By then, Channel 2 noted, replaying the clip on Monday evening, Segev was allegedly “up to his neck” in espionage on behalf of Tehran.