Ilan Grapel Tahrir
Ilan Grapel in Tahrir Square in a picture taken from his Facebook account.
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Israel denied yesterday that 28-year-old Ilan Grapel, the Israeli-American arrested Sunday in Egypt on suspicion of spying for Israel, was a Mossad agent.

The Foreign Ministry said Grapel had entered Egypt on his American passport, so the Egyptian authorities contacted the American Embassy in Cairo and not the Israeli Embassy.

A source in the Foreign Ministry said that after the Israeli Embassy had tried in vain to obtain information from the Egyptian authorities, the embassy realized that the Egyptians were handling the matter with the Americans. The ministry therefore decided to receive updates from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the State Department in Washington.

According to Adel al-Saeed, a spokesman for the Egyptian attorney general, "The spy was encouraging protesters to perform destructive and unlawful acts, and to form a divide between the army and the people, in order to spread chaos and create a security vacuum."

Meanwhile, the American consul in Cairo met yesterday with Grapel, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

The Egyptian media reported on the consul's visit and said Egypt wanted to show that it respected the suspect's rights and that he was being treated fairly. The consul connected Grapel by telephone with family in the United States.

The Egyptian general prosecution for state security will continue questioning Grapel today.

According to the Egyptian media, Grapel entered Egypt on a fake visa from a European country posing as a journalist working for an unnamed American newspaper. The reports say Grapel had been in touch with foreign reporters.

The Egyptian online newspaper The Seventh Day said Grapel had been under surveillance by Egyptian intelligence for a number of weeks and had been documented as visiting areas where tensions were high.

Some media outlets said Grapel's arrest had exposed an Israeli spy ring and that more were expected, with the investigation expanding to Alexandria and Suez.

The Egyptian media has also reported extensively on Israel's responses to the arrest, particularly in the Israeli press.

Meanwhile, Grapel's father, Daniel Grapel, told Haaretz yesterday that "99 percent of what has been published about my son is made up." Referring to one claim, the elder Grapel said his son "had a satellite phone like I'm an astronaut."

Daniel Grapel said his son was a law student at Emory University in Atlanta and was on a three-month, university-sponsored program to help refugees. Last summer, Ilan Grapel took part in the same program, at the Supreme Court.

Grapel said his son, who has dual citizenship, had entered Egypt legally, working as an intern for the legal department of a refugee assistance organization.

"The fact that they said he's from the Mossad - they could say he's from another planet and it would be just as reliable," the elder Grapel said.

Daniel Grapel said the family had left Israel in 1974 after the Yom Kippur War, and that Daniel had returned many times and joined the Israel Defense Forces after college "to do the strongest and most dangerous thing possible." Grapel said Ilan had been wounded in the Second Lebanon War but had completed his service in a paratroop unit.

Daniel Grapel said he did not want Israel to intervene; he "just wanted the Americans to do what they needed to." He said Emory officials and U.S. politicians were also involved.

Grapel said that when he spoke with his son in the phone call arranged by the American consul in Cairo, Ilan did not sound stressed.

Meanwhile, Grapel's friends also describe him as a highly unlikely candidate for a spy, calling him a peace-loving activist for human rights and an avid Facebook user.

Zvika Levy, who heads the Kibbutz Movement's efforts to find families to host lone soldiers, said Grapel had come to live in Israel from the United States with a friend, and the two knew a little Arabic. Grapel was "a little naive," Levy told Haaretz, adding that he found the idea that Grapel was a spy "bizarre."