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Iran used fake Facebook profile to gather intel on targets in Israel – Shin Bet

Security service says account had thousands of friends, mostly Israelis; it examined their willingness to harm targets, including Arab diplomats and businessmen

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Facebook page of alleged Iranian operatives uncovered by the Shin Bet. (Shin Bet)
Facebook page of alleged Iranian operatives uncovered by the Shin Bet. (Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet security agency announced Monday that it uncovered an Iranian operation that tried to recruit Israeli civilians to collect information on targets in Israel.

The alleged Iranian operators used a fake Facebook profile under the name “Sara Puppi,” who was presented as a young Jewish woman with connections and business in Israel, according to the agency.

The profile had thousands of friends, mostly Israelis. After a connection was established, conversations would continue over WhatsApp, the Shin Bet said.

According to the Shin Bet, Puppi asked Shin Bet officers pretending to be dupes to locate information about Israelis who were of interest to Iranian intelligence, as well as Arab diplomats and businessmen in Israel, in return for thousands of dollars in payment. Additionally, the operatives “examined the willingness” of the Israelis to harm the targets, the Shin Bet said.

The agency said the operators of the profile also used emotional and romantic manipulation to get the information they were seeking.

In addition, the Iranian operators asked Israelis to place an “inciting” banner on billboards against Russian President Vladimir Putin, “with the aim of harming Israel-Russia relations,” the Shin Bet said.

Facebook page of alleged Iranian operative uncovered by the Shin Bet. (Shin Bet)

“The Iranian operator behind the Facebook profile used a business cover story to assign various tasks, such as a request for revenge against those who owe him money, a desire to harm personal opponents, and even a desire to harm LGBT individuals in general,” the Shin Bet said.

The agency said it had been monitoring the alleged Iranian operation from the start.

It was not the first time Iran has allegedly used fake social media profiles to attempt to recruit Israelis for intelligence or terror activities. Earlier this year, five Israelis were arrested for assisting an Iranian operative, who often pretended to be a Jewish man, in gathering intelligence and making connections in Israel.

In its Monday statement, the Shin Bet warned that Iranian intelligence was constantly looking to recruit Israelis through the internet in order to collect information about the country.

“Security officials call on Israeli citizens to be vigilant and cautious amid the threat posed by various terrorist elements on social media and to report any unusual request to the Israel Police,” the agency said.

Last year, an Israeli man was nearly tricked by an Iranian operative into traveling to the United Arab Emirates, but called off his trip after hearing of Iranian efforts to kidnap or otherwise harm Israeli citizens.

In 2020, the Shin Bet arrested another Israeli citizen suspected of spying for Iran.

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