Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon asserted Friday that Iran was not behind the hack of Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz’s cellphone, while accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of leaking the story to the media.
Ya’alon, a member of Blue and White, did not say explicitly who he believed hacked the phone, but hinted that Netanyahu was involved.
“The Iranians are not behind the hack, they aren’t the ones attacking the prime minister’s rivals. Someone has degenerated the political system and is willing to sacrifice all values for political survival,” Ya’alon said in an interview with Channel 13 news.
Ya’alon, like Gantz a former military chief, was a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s Likud Party until resigning in 2016 in protest over being replaced as defense minister by Avigdor Liberman. He has since become a leading critic of the prime minister.
Pressed on whether he was suggesting the Shin Bet invented the story, Ya’alon said he was “convinced” the security service was not behind it.
“I know the defense establishment, and I also know the prime minister’s world,” he said. “This did not come from the Shin Bet.”
In the interview, he also said publication of the story was meant to distract from ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip, echoing Gantz and other Blue and White leaders.
Netanyahu has said neither he nor his aides were informed by Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman that Gantz’s phone had been hacked.
In a press conference Friday near the Gaza border, Gantz dismissed the news of the hacking of his phone as “political gossip” and questioned the timing of the report, which came as Blue and White has seen its lead over Likud slip in the polls ahead of general elections on April 9.
Asked if there was any embarrassing content on the phone, Gantz said he would not dignify such “ethical nosiness” with a response. His party had earlier said there were “no embarrassing videos” on the phone. Asked if the phone contained material relating to any relationship with a woman that might be used to extort him, he dismissed the notion.
“Someone is pushing this spin, and turning the real problem into one that does not exist,” he said.
Channel 12 news first reported Thursday that Gantz, a former military chief, was approached five weeks ago by officials from the Shin Bet security service who informed him that his personal phone had been hacked by Iran following his formal entry into politics in December.
The Shin Bet agents reportedly told Gantz that hackers in Iran got hold of his personal details and text messages and that he should assume that any sensitive information in the phone could be used against him in the future. They told him to proceed as he saw fit.
Blue and White has stressed no sensitive information was on Gantz’s phone and noted it was hacked four years after he retired as IDF chief of staff.
At his press conference, Gantz indicated that he had not told Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid about the phone hack before the two agreed last month to merge their parties for a joint Knesset run. Lapid, Yaalon and Gabi Ashkenazi, another Blue and White leader, “were not informed of the breach until shortly before Thursday’s television report,” Blue and White officials told the New York Times on Friday. “Yair and the others aren’t relevant to this story,” Gantz said at his press conference.
Separately, the Ynet news site reported Friday that another Israeli politician, a member of the high-level security cabinet, was recently informed of efforts to hack his phone.
The report did not name the lawmaker and said it was unclear who was behind the hacking attempt and whether any information was stolen.