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The Petah Tikva District Court on Tuesday sentenced an Israeli Arab man to five years and eight months in prison for giving Hezbollah information about the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.

Rawi Sultani, a 23-year-old resident of Tira who attended the same gym as IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, was charged late last year with collecting information about the chief of staff's daily routine.

Intelligence officials suspect the Lebanese militant organization was seeking to assassinate Ashkenazi as revenge for the Damascus killing of its second-in-command Imad Mughniyeh, which it blames on Israel.

Sultani allegedly gave the Hezbollah agent information about the gym's location, access roads and security arrangements, how many security guards Ashkenazi had, what weapons they carried, and where they were stationed inside the gym, as well as what Ashkenazi wore and which route he took to the gym.

The indictment states that a Hezbollah agent established contact with Sultani in 2008, when he participated in a Balad party delegation to a Morocco summer camp, along with delegates from other Arab states.

He allegedly met a man named Salman Hareb there. Hareb introduced himself as a Hezbollah activist, and showed camp participants Hezbollah-made films from the Second Lebanon War.

At one point, Sultani allegedly told Hareb that he works out at the same gym as Ashkenazi. The two agreed to keep in touch.

About a month later, Sultani received an e-mail from Hareb, and the two began a correspondence on e-mail and Facebook, the indictment says.

Hareb invited him to meet abroad, and Sultani suggested they meet in Poland, where he was going for a family trip, the indictment says.

A day or two before Sultani left Israel, Hareb told him he could not get a visa to Poland, and was sending his brother Sami in his place.

Sultani allegedly met Sami Hareb in Poland on December 23, 2008. Sami Hareb presented himself as a Hezbollah activist, and asked Sultani to help the organization collect information on Israeli sites, military bases and public figures. Sultani allegedly agreed.

Sami Hareb then asked Sultani for details about the gym, Ashkenazi's routine and his security arrangements. Sultani allegedly gave him detailed answers, and set another meeting, at which point he was given information about a secure e-mail address and a CD bearing encryption software.

Hareb allegedly explained to Sultani how to use the software, and gave him money to buy more CDs to hide the one with the encryption software.

Hareb also allegedly asked Sultani if he knew of Palestinian students abroad who would be willing to help Hezbollah, and Sultani allegedly gave him contact information for several of his friends. Hareb then asked to Sultani to gather more information on the country club and Ashkenazi's routine, and Sultani allegedly agreed.

When Sultani returned to Israel, Salman Hareb contacted him via e-mail, but Sultani allegedly did not respond to all his requests. On June 28, Sami Hareb called Sultani, who agreed to follow up on the discussion in Poland.

The prosecution said Sultani conspired to give an enemy useful information, knowingly maintained contact with a foreign agent, and knowingly gave an enemy useful information.

In its request to extend Sultani's remand, the prosecution said he had confessed both to the police and to the Shin Bet.

The state also claims it has statements from other participants in the Morocco summer camp regarding Salman Hareb's activity there, a note in Sultani's handwriting about the secure e-mail address, testimonies from Sultani's friend and brother stating he told them he had met with a Hezbollah agent in Poland, call records from Sultani's phone and the CD with the encryption software.

Sultani's father on Tuesday said that the defense establishment has blown the case out of proportion.

Attorney Fouad Sultani, who served as his son's defense lawyer, said that despite the harsh sentence it was proved that the case was not as serious as prosecutors had claimed.

Sultani added that prosecutors dropped the charge of conspiracy to commit a crime as part of the plea bargain. His son did, however, confess to contact with a foreign agent and passing information to an enemy.

Sultani also said that had these same offenses been committed by a Jew, the suspect would have gotten off with a warning.

"The defense establishment, however, sought to harm ties with the Arab world by way of an exaggerated indictment," Sultani said, adding that his son had been the subject of persecution over his political activism.

"Everyone knows that the charge of meeting a foreign agent is problematic in terms of its definition as all contact between an Israeli Arab citizen and a citizen of the larger Arab world can be interpreted as contact with a foreign agent," Sultaini said. "The defense establishment is using indictments to intimidate and prevent contact between Arab citizens [of Israel] and Arab states."