State: Former Arab council head recruited by Iranian intelligence
Jirias Jirias, former head of the Galilee town of Fasuta, alleged to have been hired as a political spy.
Authorities plan on indicting an Israeli Arab believed to have maintained ties with Iranian intelligence since 2004.
The Shin Bet security service and the police arrested last month Jirias Jirias, 57, from the western Galilee village of Fasuta, for allegedly being recruited by Iranian intelligence during a stay in Cyprus.
Jirias is a former operative for the Palestine Liberation Organization and a one-time head of the Fasuta local council.
An Acre municipal court judge accepted Haaretz's request for the military censor to lift the ban on publication of the affair.
Security officials believe Iranian agents planned to use Jirias to infiltrate Israel's political establishment by way of his registration with Meretz-Yahad.
Jirias fled Israel and took refuge in Lebanon in 1970 after authorities became aware of his activities on behalf of Fatah.
During his stay in Lebanon, he joined the ranks of the PLO, where he met Hani Abdullah, who is suspected of serving as the intermediary between Jirias and Iranian intelligence. Both men resided in Cyprus in the 1980s.
In 1996, three years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Jirias returned to Israel and entered local politics in Fasuta.
In May 2001, he was named council head as part of a rotational agreement. He served as council head until November 2003, when he was defeated in local elections.
According to police sources, Jirias traveled from Israel to Cyprus in September 2004 to meet Abdullah and discuss the establishment of a proposed research center. During the meeting, Abdullah told Jirias he would like the center to be financed by his Hezbollah and Iranian contacts. Jirias allegedly agreed to the proposal.
Two months after the 2004 trip to Cyprus, Abdullah allegedly placed a phone call to Jirias to tell him he had found a body to finance the research center, and to ask him to come to Cyprus for a second meeting.
Jirias indeed traveled to Cyprus in November 2003, where Abdullah introduced him to an Iranian citizen and potential donor for the center.
Police sources say Jirias revealed during questioning that he quickly understood the man was an Iranian intelligence agent after the man asked him to conduct research within two days regarding political parties, power relations and conflicts within Israeli society. Jirias told police the man displayed no interest in the research center he was allegedly to finance.
According to the Shin Bet security service, the Iranian agent told Jirias to penetrate Israeli politics by establishing relations with politicians by joining an Israeli political party. In the same discussion, the two determined the monetary compensation Jirias would receive for carrying out these missions.
Upon his return to Israel, Jirias began carrying out the agent's assignments by conducting academic research on Israeli strategic decision-making in security matters.
According to police sources, Jirias joined Meretz-Yahad that at the end of 2004 through a political activist he knew. After joining the party, Jirias spoke to the political activist on a number of occasions, expressed interest in the possibility of serving as a Knesset member, and asked him to introduce him to MKs that visit Fasuta.
Three months later, Jirias set out for Cyprus for the third time, at Abdullah's request, with the pretext for the trip being a meeting with businessmen that would fund the research center. During his stay in Cyprus, Abdullah introduced him to two Iranian agents who questioned him on his past and his political activism in Israel, and also questioned him on his ties to Israeli authorities, due to his having been a former council head.
After the meeting, Jirias was told to initiate ties with top government officials.
Jirias was arrested on December 12, and his remand was extended twice, at the request of the police.
Meretz-Yahad said in reaction that "Jirias Jirias is listed among the party's 22,000 members, but he is in no way active in the party or its institutions. The party trusts security authorities and the judicial system to carry out the investigation and justice in this serious affair."
Shin Bet: Rise in Iranian intelligence attempts to recruit Israeli citizensShin Bet officials noted that a significant rise was marked in 2005 in Iranian intelligence attempts to recruit Israeli citizens as agents. It was also noted that security sources had recently dealt with Israelis suspected of ties with Iranian intelligence, some of whom served in positions that granted them access to classified information and sites.
"Jirias' interrogation reveals serious spy activity conducted by Iran against Israel, and an attempt to infiltrate one of its agents into Israel's government institutes, with the aim of obtaining classified information on goings-on in the state and influencing state maneuvers," according to a Shin Bet statement.
Jirias' attorney, his brother Sabri Jirais, claimed that the suspicions were baseless. He confirmed that his brother had met with Abdullah on account of the friendly ties they have enjoyed for dozens of years, and that when he found out that Iranian agents wished to be involved in establishing the research center, he rejected this.
Jirias said the security services had been tracking his brother for nine months, and that during his interrogation, he was presented with a recording of a phone call between his brother and Abdullah, during which his brother was heard rejecting Iranian agents' assistance for the research center, and asking to cut ties on the matter.
Jirias noted that his brother did join Meretz-Yahad, but, he claims, this had nothing to do with the suspicions against him.
"My brother is a very secular man, affiliated with the PLO's centrist stream, who believes in peace talks and a two-state solution for two nations," he said. "He thought that after serving in the council, he would advance to national politics, believing in peace and co-existence, rather than the opposite. What they are trying to ascribe to him contradicts his political outlook."
The attorney went on to say that he plans to prove his brother's innocence, and claimed that, "During the detention, the police dropped the spy charges initially ascribed to him." He said he believes the additional suspicions against his brother, according to which he had contact with a foreign agent, will be refuted because the police have no evidence on the matter. "He has a reasonable explination for his meeting with Abdullah, who is an old friend," Jirias said.
Attorney Jirias served as the director-general of a Palestinian research center whose offices are in Ramallah. Until former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat's death in 2004, Jirias served as his advisor on Israeli affairs. Jirias told Haaretz that Abdullah and his brother worked together at an institute in Beirut, and later in Cyprus.
Rumors in FasutaWhile residents of the Christian village of Fasuta had heard of Jirias' arrest, they did not know details of the suspicions against him, relying instead on rumors and speculations, mostly having to do with past security issues dating back to the 1970s.
Residents of Fasuta said that Jirias lived in the village without his wife and children, who reside in London. According to their accounts, when he returned to Israel in 1996 he became involved in village politics, eventually being elected to head of the village council.
As head of the council, Jirais did not take advantage of his past to advance his career, residents say. Since leaving the council, he has led a completely routine life, they add. Friends tell that occasionally he would travel to London to visit his children, but he did little socializing with friends and acquaintances.