Reuters: Iran has been issuing tourist visas to Israelis of Iranian descent and recruiting some of the visitors to spy on their new homeland, Israel’s Shin Bet counter-intelligence agency said on Tuesday. By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, April 17 (Reuters) – Iran has been issuing tourist visas to Israelis of Iranian descent and recruiting some of the visitors to spy on their new homeland, Israel’s Shin Bet counter-intelligence agency said on Tuesday.
Israel is home to tens of thousands of Iranian immigrants, many of whom maintain discreet ties with relatives in their native land despite almost three decades of cold war-style hostility between the Islamic republic and the Jewish state.
A Shin Bet official said that over the past two years, around 100 emigres have travelled to Tehran, first stopping in Istanbul to receive permits from the Iranian consulate there. Many came under pressure into become spies, the official said.
“They had intensive interrogations by Iranian intelligence officers. Some of the Israelis were refused permission to leave Iran until they agreed to cooperate,” the Shin Bet official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Some of the Israelis reported the recruitment attempts when back home, the official said. But 10 of the returning tourists were caught trying to pass information to their handlers.
“We’re talking about low-grade data — such as the names of Israeli security or military personnel who might be approached by Iranian intelligence. At this stage, the Iranian emigres were being cultivated as spies,” the Shin Bet official said.
“We are not planning to press charges as all of these espionage attempts were intercepted and foiled,” the official said without giving further details on the alleged spies.
Israel allows its citizens to visit Iran as the countries were never in open conflict. Iran does not recognise Israel and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has recently raised tensions by calling for the Jewish state to be “wiped off the map”.
Iran’s nuclear programme has further stirred war fears in Israel, though Tehran denies having hostile designs. Israel is believed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal.
The Shin Bet said it had recommended that parliament amend the law so that Iran is designated as an enemy state and off-limits to Israelis.
Iran is home to 25,000 Jews, who while subject to state scrutiny, seldom complain of serious persecution.
Iran arrested 13 Jewish citizens in 1999 and tried them for espionage in a case that drew international condemnation. Israel denied any links to the alleged cell, all of whose members were eventually released from prison.
Avi Yigay, an Israeli of Iranian descent who visited Iran last year, told Israel’s Army Radio that he had not experienced any pressure from the authorities in Tehran to switch sides.
“They received me very nicely. I wasn’t afraid,” Yigay said. “My passport has a five-year visa, so I can go back there without contacting anyone. I have family there. I may go back.”