A former head of Israel’s spy agency said Monday that an investigative committee should be set up to probe a media leak that said Iran had hacked the telephone of Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key challenger in the elections on April 9.
Tamir Pardo also said the leak was “a blow to the democratic game.”
Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, has called the leak “political gossip,” noting that the ruling Likud party was utilizing the news as fodder for its campaign videos.
Gantz’s Blue and White party has already asked the attorney general to investigate the reported hack and determine whether the leak of the story to the media came from the prime minister.
“The use of classified intelligence information for political ends is very grave,” Pardo said at the Meir Dagan Conference for Security and Strategy, held at the Netanya Academic College.
“Leaking something like this, at the height of an election campaign, tramples on all the rules of the democratic game,” he continued.
“If Iran is really behind the hacking of Gantz’s telephone, it is completely clear why it was kept secret,” said Pardo, who led the Mossad spy agency from 2011 to 2016.
Blue and White has noted that if the report about Gantz’s phone was accurate, the information could only have come from intelligence agencies or the civilian National Cyber Directorate, all of which are under the Prime Minister’s Office.
Netanyahu and his Likud party have roundly denied the accusations, saying in a Saturday night campaign video that the attempt to blame the prime minister for the leak was meant “to distract from the fact that the Iranian regime openly supports” Gantz’s candidacy.
The initial report about the breach on Channel 12 news said that Iranian intelligence had hacked Gantz’s cellphone and obtained access to all its contents. A follow-up report night said that no sensitive security information was housed on Gantz’s phone at the time of the hack.
The reports cited unnamed security officials.
After the news broke, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said his agency had not briefed Netanyahu about any such hack.
Blue and White said the information likely came from the Mossad intelligence agency, now headed by Netanyahu’s former national security adviser Yossi Cohen, and from the National Cyber Directorate, which Netanyahu founded and oversees as part of the Prime Minister’s Office.
In the days since the report, Likud’s campaign has pivoted from accusing Gantz of being a “leftist” to arguing that he is the preferred candidate of the regime in Tehran.
At a press conference on Friday near the Gaza border, Gantz dismissed the news of the hacking of his phone as “political gossip” and questioned the timing of the report, which came as Blue and White has seen its lead over Likud slip in the polls ahead of the elections.
Asked if there was any embarrassing content on the phone, Gantz said he would not dignify such “ethical nosiness” with a response. His party had earlier said there were “no embarrassing videos” on the phone. Asked if the phone contained material relating to any relationship with a woman that might be used to extort him, he dismissed the notion.
“Someone is pushing this spin, and turning the real problem into one that does not exist,” he said.
In its Thursday report, Channel 12 said that Gantz was approached five weeks ago by officials from the Shin Bet who informed him that his phone had been hacked by Iran following his formal entry into politics in December.
The Shin Bet agents reportedly told Gantz that hackers in Iran got hold of his personal details and text messages and that he should assume that any sensitive information in the phone could be used against him in the future. They told him to proceed as he saw fit.
Blue and White has stressed no sensitive information was on Gantz’s phone and noted it was hacked four years after he retired as chief of staff in 2015.