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Israel says ‘Iranian terror’ targeted Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus

PM, defense minister accuse Tehran of foiled assassination attempt last week against gambling mogul Teddy Sagi; Tehran denies involvement; hired gun said arrested

Teddy Sagi (Courtesy)
Teddy Sagi (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office on Monday blamed “Iranian terror” for last week’s reported assassination attempt against Teddy Sagi in Cyprus, saying that the Israeli billionaire wasn’t targeted personally, and that the failed hit was not a criminal affair.

“Regarding some of the reports last night about the incident in Cyprus, I would like to clarify, on behalf of the security establishment, that this was an act of terror that was orchestrated by Iran against Israeli businesspeople living in Cyprus,” Bennett’s spokesman Matan Sidi said in a statement, implying there were other targets in addition to Sagi. He did not provide more details.

“This wasn’t a criminal incident, and businessman Teddy Sagi wasn’t the [specific] target of the attack,” he added.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also alluded to the incident on Monday, and reiterated the claim that it was linked to Iranian terror.

“As was publicized recently, an Iranian attack against Israeli targets in Cyprus was foiled,” said Gantz during a Blue and White faction meeting in the Knesset. “Iran continues to be a global and regional threat, as well as a challenge to Israel, and we will continue to operate in order to protect our citizens and the State of Israel anywhere from any threat.”

The Iranian Embassy in Cyprus reportedly rejected the accusation that it was involved as a “baseless claim.” According to Channel 12, Cypriot police say all possible motives are being examined.

Illustrative — In this file photo taken on September 7, 2017, tourists sunbathe at the beach in the resort town of Ayia Napa in southeastern Cyprus. (Florian Choblet/AFP)

According to the network, Sagi, a well-known Israeli-Cypriot businessman who founded the gambling software company Playtech and owns Camden Market in London, was saved at the last minute from the assassination plot several days ago after being warned of it.

Channel 12 had initially said that Sagi, 49, was targeted due to debts to Russian business partners.

A hired killer of Azerbaijani origin who, according to Walla News, holds a Russian passport, was reportedly waiting for Sagi on the island.

Sagi fled the country at the last minute to evade the killer, Channel 12 said.

According to Ynet, the assassin was arrested in Cyprus days later after he crossed the Agios Dhometios checkpoint in Nicosia from the Turkish-ruled northern part of the country.

Prior to the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Teddy Sagi Group earlier on Monday pushed back against reports that the businessman had been targeted due to his business interests, saying: “Teddy Sagi was not the target of the attempted assassination. It was an attempted terror attack, staged by Iran, against other Israelis in Cyprus. It is a shame to see how easy it is to publish unverified information and tarnish a person’s reputation.”

According to Forbes, Sagi is worth $5.6 billion, and is the fourth-richest person in Israel.

Cyprus is home to about 3,500 Jews, many of them Israeli. It is a particularly popular vacation destination for Israelis, less than an hour’s flight from Tel Aviv.

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