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In questioning, women in Iran espionage case insist they had no sinister intentions

Report quotes 2 targets, who had both faced marital problems and are now accused of spying, saying agent offered them money, tried to lure them abroad

A woman accused of contacting a foreign agent from Iran, arrives for a court hearing in the Jerusalem District Court, January 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A woman accused of contacting a foreign agent from Iran, arrives for a court hearing in the Jerusalem District Court, January 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli television on Wednesday aired details from the testimonies of two of the Israeli women suspected of aiding an Iranian espionage operation, who were recently arrested over the affair.

The Shin Bet last week announced the arrests of the five Jewish Israeli suspects, accusing them of assisting an Iranian operative in gathering intelligence and making connections in Israel.

The five suspects — four women and one man — are all Jewish immigrants from Iran or the descendants of Iranian immigrants. They were indicted over the past month in the Jerusalem District Court.

According to the Shin Bet, the suspects took photographs of strategically significant sites in Israel, including the United States Consulate in Tel Aviv; attempted to form relationships with politicians; provided information about security arrangements at different sites; and committed other offenses — all at the direction of the Iranian operative, who went by the name Rambod Namdar, in exchange for thousands of dollars.

Two of the suspects also attempted to convince their sons to join an IDF Military Intelligence unit, the Shin Bet said.

In some cases, the suspects acknowledged that they were aware that Namdar may have been an Iranian intelligence operative, but continued their communications with him anyway, according to the security service.

However, as none of the suspects allegedly involved in the case had access to significant classified material, and there was no indication that this spy ring seriously compromised national security. It did, however, reveal a potential weak point that could be used by Iran in the future.

Channel 13 news aired the testimonies of two of the suspects, apparently given to police investigators during their questioning.

One of them, a 50-year-old soon-to-be-divorced mother of five from Jerusalem, was identified only by the first Hebrew letter of her first name, Dalet.

“Dalet” said that 2.5 years ago, she accepted a friend request from Namdar on Facebook after she saw they had many mutual friends and he presented himself as a Jew.

“He asked me in Hebrew how I was doing and I asked him how he knew Hebrew. He told me his grandfather taught him. He presented himself as a contractor from an upscale neighborhood,” she reportedly said.

An undated Facebook profile picture that was used by an alleged Iranian intelligence operative, known as Rambod Namdar, to make contact with Israeli citizens, several of whom were indicted on January 12, 2022. (Shin Bet)

They quickly switched to speaking via WhatsApp, where Namdar tried to get information from her by sending her a Facebook group post with well-wishes to a new, Persian-origin commander in the IDF intelligence unit 8200.

“He asked me who that was. I told him I know her and have met her, but that she isn’t my friend,” said “Dalet.”

He later told her that Israeli hit series “Tehran” — depicting fictitious Mossad operations inside Iran — was “a series belonging to the Shin Bet,” and asked her whether she had seen or met people who work for the Shin Bet.

After four months, Namdar offered to meet “Dalet” in Turkey or in Dubai.

“I told him I was still married and not yet divorced, and he continued trying to convince me to travel to another country,” she said. “I said he could bribe people and get me to Iran via Armenia, but that I shouldn’t tell this to anyone.”

Later, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Namdar offered money to the woman after she said she was in financial problems due to lockdowns. “He insisted on sending me $1,000, and one day he sent me a Western Union code number. I went to the bank and withdrew NIS 2,800 sent from Australia. He said he had asked a friend in Australia to send the money.”

“Dalet” said she had suspected Namdar because he refused to give details about himself.

Despite having her suspicions, only after she was arrested during the investigation did she understand the full scale of what she had been involved in.

“This entire relationship was not intended at harming the country,” she reportedly told police investigators. “I don’t want to ruin my life and my children’s lives. Have mercy on me.”

Illustrative: A Jewish Iranian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the capital Tehran, on February 21, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The Channel 13 report also cited the testimony of another woman, named by the Hebrew initial “Mem.”

“About five years ago, he sent me a message on Facebook and told me he was a wealthy Jew. I told him I had gone through a tough divorce and was working in several jobs,” said “Mem.”

She said Namdar had also offered to send her money, but that she refused.

“Mem” said that on one occasion, she discovered that Namdar had offered another woman — identified by the initial “Bet” — to meet in Turkey and heard from “Bet” that she had bought him a necklace.

“She started crying and said she can’t fly in the end and that she had already bought a ticket and wasted a lot of money,” said “Mem,” adding: “I told her: ‘How are you going to him? Do you know who he is?'”

Lawyers for the five suspects in the case have said that they intended no harm. One of their sons was quoted by Channel 12 saying that his mother is an elderly woman who would never do anything to harm Israel, and worked to encourage the immigration of Jews from Iran.

Babek Yitzhaki, an Iranian-born journalist, has said the affair is an “earthquake” within the community of Israelis born in Iran.

The investigation and resulting indictments shed light on the rare and little-discussed phenomenon of Jews from Iran traveling to Israel to visit family.

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