A former head of the Shin Bet security service said Saturday that prior to being recruited by Iran to spy on Israel, disgraced ex-minister Gonen Segev was a kidnap target of the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, an Iranian proxy.
Speaking at a cultural event in Beersheba, Yaakov Peri told the audience that Segev was “designated as a recruiting target by Iranian intelligence. Luckily, he was not Elchanan Tenenbaum, and did not engage in dubious deals in the Persian Gulf.”
Tenenbaum is a former Israeli businessman and IDF reserve colonel, who was kidnapped by Hezbollah operatives in 2000 while in Dubai to carry out a drug deal.
In 2004, he was released in a prisoner exchange along with the bodies of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped in an October 2000 Hezbollah ambush along Lebanon’s border with Israel. Through German mediation, 400 Palestinian prisoners were swapped for Tenenbaum and the remains.
According to Peri, Hezbollah had originally targeted Segev, due to the former minister’s grievances with the Israeli government, which had stripped him of his medical license after he served time in prison for a drug smuggling operation in 2004.
“He is a classic type [to be targeted] because he is greedy and readily gets involved in dubious transactions,” Peri said of Segev, adding that Iranian officials would not have been able to so easily recruit him, as they allegedly did in Nigeria in 2012, had they been dealing with “a serious person.”
Unable to practice medicine in Israel, Segev moved to Nigeria upon his release from jail in 2007. There, he worked as a doctor, including for staffers at the Israeli embassy in Abuja and for the local Jewish community.
Segev, who was arrested last month and extradited to Israel, has been charged with knowingly passing information to Iran about locations of security centers and the country’s energy industry, among other espionage activities on behalf of Israel’s foremost enemy.
Since the case came to light earlier this week, many have questioned how much sensitive and relevant information was available to the former energy minister.
Segev, who the Shin Bet said was working as a spy up until his arrest in mid-May, reportedly attended an event at an Abuja hotel hosted by the Israeli embassy on May 10 to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary.
Hadashot news television reported that most of the businessmen Segev tried to connect with Iranian spies were uninterested in his advances, but one became suspicious of his activities and informed Israeli authorities, a move that eventually led to Segev’s arrest.
Segev has reportedly told investigators his motive all along was to set himself up as a double agent in order to rehabilitate his image, which was badly tarnished by the drug smuggling conviction.
According to Hadashot, he claimed he informed a senior defense official of his contacts with the Iranians at the very start of his interactions with the them, with the expectation he would be used as a double agent, but the orders never came.
Segev’s lawyers have not denied wrongdoing but only said that parts of the case that remain sealed tell a different story than the one described by the Shin Bet.
In mid-May, Segev traveled from Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea where he was arrested by local police and sent back to Israel, the Shin Bet said Monday.
Segev, who reportedly was being held in a Shin Bet facility, was moved Tuesday to Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, where he was said to be in good spirits and good health.
Media reports assessed that Segev’s incarceration in the Gilboa prison in a regular prison wing may point to him not having had any sensitive information to pass on to the Iranians.
Nonetheless, a Justice Ministry official confirmed to The Times of Israel on Monday that under Israeli law, prosecutors can seek the death penalty for treason.
For his part, Peri has faced his own scandals in recent months.
The former Shin Bet head stepped down from his position as lawmaker in the Yesh Atid party in February after an “Uvda” report alleged he leaked sensitive information to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri about police wiretaps of Deri’s associates during a corruption investigation into the Shas leader two decades ago.
The “Uvda” investigative report aired in January unearthed a report from a covert probe in 1995 that saw two members of the three-person panel of investigators conclude that Peri — also a former science minister — was likely the source of the 1991 leaks to Deri, after the then-Shin Bet chief was found to be lying on a series of polygraph tests.
Peri, who has conceded to having a “good relationship” with Deri at the time, firmly denies the allegations. In a statement announcing his resignation, he said the report was aimed at tainting his name and his years of public service.