By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM, Jan 12 (Reuters) – An Iranian operative posing as a Jew living in Iran persuaded five Israelis via social media to provide information that included photos of a U.S. diplomatic mission, Israel’s counter-intelligence agency said on Wednesday.
The four women and a man charged in the investigation were described in Israeli media reports as Jewish immigrants from Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, or their descendants.
The Shin Bet agency said in a statement they were indicted for “serious crimes” over the past month in connection with their contacts with “Rambod Nambar” on Facebook and WhatsApp.
From details in the agency’s statement, the alleged Iranian sting ensnared people with no direct access to top-secret information, and it said three were grandmothers.
“I congratulate the Shin Bet and the Israeli police on a successful operation to foil hostile terrorist activity,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.
He cautioned Israelis that Iran might be behind “information you consume or share on social media”.
For its part, Iran has long accused Israel’s Mossad spy agency of running agents in the country and of sabotage and assassinations aimed at hindering Tehran’s nuclear programme. Iran denies Israel’s allegations it is seeking nuclear weapons.
On Israel’s Channel 12 TV, a lawyer for one of the arrested women said her client, who emigrated from Tehran in the early 1990s, thought “Rambod” was a prosperous Jewish resident of Tehran.
“He said he yearned to come to Israel and wanted to see photographs of the country,” attorney Sarit Katlovsky said.
The material provided by some of the suspects included photographs of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, an election polling station, an Interior Ministry office and a shopping mall, the Shin Bet said.
The Shin Bet said some of the women received money from “Rambod” and chose to remain in contact with him even though they suspected he might be an Iranian agent.
The Shin Bet said the suspects’ names could not be published, under court order.
( Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alex Richardson)