A Jewish Iranian man was questioned at Ben Gurion Airport and deported on Friday over suspicions of attempting to carry out espionage on behalf of Iranian intelligence, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said.
The man, who has relatives in Israel, was detained by Shin Bet agents early Friday morning upon landing, the service said. The agency claimed that the man admitted to being in Israel to spy for Tehran and was promptly sent back to Iran via a third country, apparently after it was determined that he was not a threat.
The agency declined to say which country he had arrived from.
According to the Shin Bet, the man was instructed by Iranian security operatives to spy on Israel before he flew to the country. The agency said he was given an empty tissue box that would be used to hide surveillance equipment, including a cell phone and a mobile power bank.
“It is estimated that these means were handed to him in order to carry out secret espionage on targets in Israel,” the Shin Bet said.
The agency added that he was instructed to use his time in Israel to gather information on various targets, the addresses of which were to have been given to him by his Iranian handler after he landed.
“This incident is part of a broad Iranian effort to establish espionage and terror [networks] in Israel, alongside the influence on the internet to widen social divides,” the Shin Bet said.
The announcement appeared to break with standard operating procedure for the Shin Bet, which normally waits weeks or months before announcing developments in international spy cases regarding Iran, and is not thought to regularly send spies it nabs back to their home countries.
Defense sources told The Times of Israel that because the suspect was thought to have been pressured to spy on Israel by Iranian intelligence and also motivated by a large payout, he was not arrested.
A defense official said that there was “low probability” that he would have been charged in the Israeli legal system, as he was not an Israeli citizen.
“He was stopped before he could do anything. And this is in addition to other operative considerations,” the official added.
Iran has been engaged in a shadow war with Israel for years, with Tehran accusing Jerusalem of being behind a series of sabotage attacks and assassinations targeting its nuclear program, carried out alongside the US. Israel in turn, has accused Iran and its proxy groups of attempting to target Israelis and Jews abroad, and has also accused it of carrying out numerous cyberattacks against the Jewish state.
The Islamic Republic has also been accused by the Shin Bet of attempting to recruit Israelis of Iranian origin to spy for Iran’s security services.
On Wednesday, two Israelis were cleared of charges that they spied for Iran, while a third was convicted on a related charge, wrapping up a case that began with serious espionage accusations against five nationals with either personal or family ties to the Islamic Republic.
The investigation and resulting indictments shed light on the rare and little-discussed phenomenon of Jews from Iran traveling to Israel to visit family.