Iranians back ex-minister accused of spying, troll Israel on Twitter

Iranians back ex-minister accused of spying, troll Israel on Twitter

After news breaks of Gonen Segev's arrest on allegations of espionage for Tehran, social media is filled with messages of support from denizens of the Islamic Republic

Former energy minister Gonen Segev, file (YouTube screenshot)
Former energy minister Gonen Segev, file (YouTube screenshot)

Iranians inundated Twitter on Monday with messages of support for former Israeli minister Gonen Segev, who has been arrested and charged with spying for Tehran.

Tweets from the Islamic Republic, under the hashtag #FreeGonenSegev, were immediately sympathetic toward Segev, who has been accused of giving Israel’s top enemy sensitive information about security centers and the country’s energy industry.

Some of the tweets appeared sincere, while others seemed intent on trolling Israel.

“Free our spy. He has kids. He is a father,” one user said.

Another echoed the family-man defense, and accused Israel of “persecuting Gonen with ridiculous charges.”

Others claimed Gonen has been tortured, an assertion that has not been made by any reputable news media.

“We stand with you, Gonen,” yet another declared.

One user posted a picture of an Israeli cabinet meeting, remarking, “How may spies can you see in this picture?”

Another called for regime change in Israel where, he said, “There are many political prisoners” with “no freedom of expression.”

Others, whether erroneously or disengenuously, posted photos from old social justice protests, claiming they were rallies in support of Segev.

On Monday, the Shin Bet security service announced that Segev — an energy minister in 1995-1996 who has since served time in jail for drug smuggling — was extradited to Israel from Equatorial Guinea and charged with spying for Iran last month.

He was allegedly an active agent at the time of his arrest, and had twice been to Iran to meet his handlers.

Segev has reportedly admitted to Shin Bet investigators that he was in contact with Iranian intelligence officials, but claimed his alleged espionage on behalf of the Islamic Republic was actually an effort to help Israel.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, Segev during his interrogation told investigators that he had no ideological or financial motive in helping Iran, and that he did not hand over any classified information.

Segev was lured to the Iranian embassy in 2012, when he was living in Nigeria, under the guise of treating the children of its diplomatic staff, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported.

Former energy minister Gonen Segev, seen at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem for the appeal on his prison sentence on August 18, 2006. (Flash90)

By then going to work for the Iranians, Segev reportedly claims he was hoping to mislead them and ultimately restore his reputation that was tarnished by the drug bust from over a decade ago, the TV report said.

“I wanted to fool the Iranians and come back to Israel a hero,” he was quoted as saying during his interrogation.

According to Channel 10, Segev was held in solitary confinement for nine days after he was brought to Israel last month, and was barred from contacting his attorneys during that time. He is reportedly being held in a Shin Bet facility in central Israel.

Though Israeli officials are reportedly almost certain that Gonen did not provide any sensitive material to his handlers in Tehran, law enforcement authorities are treating the unprecedented case extremely gravely.

In a statement Monday, the Shin Bet said that Segev handed over information to his handlers about Israel’s energy sector, diplomatic operations, and specific buildings.

The agency said Segev met with his Iranian handlers in hotels and safe houses around the world, and used a special encrypted device to send them messages in secret.

On Friday, Segev was indicted in a Jerusalem court on charges of assisting the enemy in wartime, spying, and a number of other related crimes, but the case remained under a gag order until Monday. Some details of the case remain sealed.

His lawyers said in a statement to the Hebrew press that the full charge sheet painted a “different picture” from that which can be seen from only the parts cleared for publication.

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