Israeli Arab Charged in Hezbollah Plot to Kill IDF Chief

Rawi Sultani, 23, allegedly recruited by group because he belonged to same health club as Ashkenazi.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

An Israeli Arab man has been indicted for allegedly working on behalf of Hezbollah in a plot to assassinate Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, a gag order lifted on Monday revealed.

Tira resident Rawi Fuad Sultani, 23, was arrested by Shin Bet and Israel Police forces earlier this month and indicted at the Haifa District Court.

According to the charge sheet, Sultani first made contact with Hezbollah agents at a multi-national Arab summer camp in Morocco organized by the Israeli Arab political party Balad.

Lebanese Hezbollah agent Salman Harev, who also took part in the camp, spent much of the summer lecturing the Israeli Arab participants on his group's struggle.

Harev allegedly recruited Sultani, who is the son of a well-known Tira lawyer, after the latter informed him that he and the IDF chief worked out at the same Kfar Sava gym. The two remained in touch via telephone and Facebook after Sultani returned to Israel.

In December 2008, Sultani allegedly flew to Poland to meet another Hezbollah agent, where he then imparted all the information he had collected on Ashkenazi. The second agent, "Sami", allegedly asked Sultani to gather informatioon on other senior Israeli and IDF officials.

Israeli intelligence sources assess that Hezbollah chose the IDF chief as a target to avenge the death of slain militant leader Imad Mughniyeh, believed to have been assassinated by Israel.

Sultani has been charged with a series of security offenses, including conveying information to an enemy agent and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The suspect's father Fuad Sultani represented him at Monday's hearing, and denied the allegations.

He said his son was not involved in any plot to harm Ashkenazi and had carried on an innocent conversation with a fellow student at the summer camp "who in retrospect, according to the indictment, was a member of Hezbollah".

Sultani confirmed that his son had belonged to the health club but told Israel Radio his membership expired a year ago, and declared that the charges against his son has been "inflated for political" purposes.

"At face value, the charges look grave. But I can say now that they were inflated for political reasons," he told Israel Radio. "I can attest to my son's innocence and will do so in court."

Balad is an Arab political party represented in Knesset. The party's former leader, Azmi Bishara, fled Israel after police charged him with passing information to Hezbollah agents during Israel's war against the Lebanese militia in the summer of 2006.

Israel has been concerned about a possible revenge attack following the 2008 assassination of Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah commander, in a car bomb in Damascus, Syria.

Hezbollah and its backers in Iran blamed Israel for the killing, but Israel never acknowledged involvement in the assassination.

In March, another Israeli Arab citizen suspected of being a prospective Hezbollah spy was indicted on charges of contact with a foreign agent.

Ismail Saleiman, a 27-year-old man from the Jezreel Valley town of Hajajra, was suspected of being in contact with a Hezbollah operative and planning to spy on Israel for the terror group.

Last May, a shadowy group calling itself the "Galilee Freedom Fighters" claimed that seven Israeli Arabs arrested on terrorism charges were its operatives. The detainees, two of whom are minors, are suspected of planning terror attacks and attempting to kidnap Israel Defense Forces soldiers

In recent years, Israeli Arabs and Israeli identity card-carrying Palestinians in East Jerusalem have become increasingly involved in terrorist acts against various targets in the country.

Over the course of the last five years, there have been at least six documented instances of attacks committed by Israeli Arabs or East Jerusalem residents.

Some of these attacks were claimed by the Galilee Freedom Fighters, although most of the assailants acted on their own volition and were not assisted by any organizational structure.

Officials in the security establishment believe most of the attacks were perpetrated by lone assailants, a fact which made it more difficult for the police and the army to gain information that would enable them to preemptively thwart the attack.



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