Israeli Arab suspected of spying for Iranian intelligence
A 56-year-old man from Baka al-Garbiyeh was arrested and remanded into police custody on suspicions that he conducted espionage on behalf of Iran. A court-imposed gag order on the case was lifted on Tuesday. The man was arrested in early November.
Mohammed Ghanem is suspected of meeting last August in Saudi Arabia with an Iranian who wanted him to find Israeli Arab students who would get scholarships for studies in Jordan, where they would be recruited by Iranian intelligence to conduct terror operations against Israel.
Police said that Ghanem, who spent six years in prison in the mid-1970s after being convicted of trying to grab a weapon from a soldier, is to be charged formally at a Haifa court on Wednesday.
Ghanem's lawyer, attorney Yihye Dahamshe, said his client was involved in a group that arranges pilgrimages to the Islamic holy city of Mecca and had committed no crime.
He added that his client had been asked by acquaintances to "send us students to Jordan" but turned them down. The lawyer admitted his client had received money from the men, but it was to help him get out of debt.
"That sounds suspicious, I agree, but it doesn't mean there's evidence he was in contact with a foreign agent. He didn't commit any crime against state security," the lawyer told Channel 1 on Tuesday night. According to the lawyer, Ghanem said that his only mistake was not reporting the approach to the Israeli authorities.
Police deputy commander Amihai Shai said, "We have evidence that Ghanem knew that he was supposed to enlist Israeli Arabs to conduct terror operations in Israel."
The investigation, which was conducted by the International Investigations Unit, began in 2003, and a month ago, police backed by officers from the Shin Bet security service raided Ghanem's home, confiscating documents and cash.
Police say he was recruited by a Lebanese man, Nabil Mahzume, who has recently been trying to recruit Israeli Arabs. They apparently met in the early 1970s in prison. Mahzume, in prison for planting bombs in Nazareth and Haifa, was later freed as part of the Jibril prisoner release and moved to Lebanon, where he joined Ahmed Jibril's organization.
Mahzume and Ghanem resumed contact three years ago during an accidental encounter in Mecca, which Ghanem, who heads a hajj NPO, frequently visits as an organizer of pilgrimages by Israeli Muslims to the Islamic holy site.
The two met again in Saudi Arabia in 2003, where Mahzume supposedly introduced Ghanem to an Iranian called Abu Osama, who asked Ghanem to recruit Israeli Arabs. Ghanem's lawyer says his client turned down the entreaties.