Israeli Businessman Charged With Contacting Foreign Agent, Passing Info to Iran

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Abu al-Kiyan in his home, 2017
Abu al-Kiyan in his home, 2017Credit: Abu al-Kiyan's social media accounts

A well-known Israeli businessman was charged Monday with contact with a foreign agent and passing information to the enemy.

According to the charges, Yaakub Abu al-Kiyan passed on information regarding Defense Minister Benny Gantz to an Iraqi agent who was in contact with Iranian agents.

Abu al-Kiyan, who was on the Telem party slate of former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, has been in custody for several weeks. He was arrested in early June and was not allowed to meet with a lawyer for the first 20 days of his detention. 

“The defendant knowingly had contacts with a foreign agent for Iran, and he has no reasonable explanation for it," the indictment alleges. "In addition, the defendant knowingly passed on information to the enemy.”

Abu al-Kiyan (R), next to former lawmaker Moshe Ya'alon (C), and Zarzir Amir MzaribCredit: Abu al-Kiyan's social media account

Abu al-Kiyan has had close ties with a large number of Israeli politicians and is considered one of the wealthiest Arab businessmen in the country, although his investigation revealed that he has encountered financial difficulties.

The indictment alleges that an Iraqi businessman made contact with Abu al-Kiyan in 2019 and told him that individuals in Tehran wanted to meet him. Abu al-Kiyan then allegedly provided the Iraqi with information about Gantz over a period of time, but never met with the Iraqi contact due to a court order banning him from leaving Israel due to his financial and other difficulties.

“On many occasions, … the defendant gave [Iraqi businessman] Khaider information [that he] had learned [about] in Israel concerning the operations of Israeli security forces, the activities of Defense Minister Benny Gantz and military transactions between Israel and the United States and information the defendant learned from the media or from his connections with various people in Israel," the indictment states. "The defendant did so to increase his value in the Iranians' eyes and to receive compensation in return for the information he provided.”

Abu al-Kiyan allegedly glorified himself in his conversations with Khaider, saying he was one of the decision-makers in Israel and purportedly even claimed he was a cabinet member. The indictment states that Abu al-Kiyan informed the Iraqi about Gantz’s return from a diplomatic trip to the United States last October, during which an agreement with the United Arab Emirates was forged. In addition, “the defendant told Khaider in one conversation that Israel was planning to carry out an attack soon, an operation that by coincidence did take place soon after," the indictment alleges.

Abu al-Kiyan and the Iraqi allegedly unsuccessfully tried to schedule a meeting with the Iranians in a third country in 2020, and there was reasonable suspicion that Iraqi worked to collecting information or other acts that could very well harm Israeli national security, according to the allegations against him. Prosecutors said that at first, Abu al-Kiyan confessed to the crimes, but later retracted his confession and said he exaggerated his account of events. But he did admit to passing on information about Gantz.

The Be’er Sheva District Court lifted the gag order on the case at Haaretz's request. Last week, the court allowed the partial publication of the story following harsh criticism by a district court  judge regarding the Shin Bet security service and the police. Judge Eliahu Bitan told the prosecution to "get a reality check."

In response to the indictment, the Shin Bet said that the investigation is an example of the response by Israeli security agencies to recruitment efforts by Iran and the Lebanese-based Shi'ite militia group in Israel and abroad aimed at harming senior Israeli officials and collecting intelligence information.  

In recent years, Abu al-Kiyan often gave interviews to the media, and presented himself as someone who grew up in poverty, who began his professional career as a human resources person and became a building contractor and then one of the richest people in the Bedouin community.

He owns two properties in Meitar and Hura in the Negev, where he lives with one of his wives in a luxurious house with gold furniture. He has widespread connections with businessmen in the Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and in recent years has conducted business meetings in the Gulf, a number of sources have said. In interviews, he has said that the company he owns also did work for the Israeli army's new training base complex in the Negev.

Moshe Ya'alon's Telem party

In 2019, Abu al-Kiyan joined the former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's Telem party and met a number of times with Ya’alon, who was not asked to testify in the case. In the end, the party did not run for the Knesset that year. In January 2019, Ya’alon called Abu al-Kiyan an “outstanding member of the Bedouin community, built himself up with his own hands, works very hard and has done a great deal for the Bedouin community in particular and minorities in general.”

Ya’alon told Haaretz that he was surprised about the suspicions and that his relationship with Abu al-Kiyan had been short and ended at his own initiative. “I was shocked to hear about the serious acts attributed to Yakub Abu al-Kiyan,” he said. He had put Abu al-Kiyan on the Telem party slate after being impressed by his reputation as a businessman from the Bedouin community who worked to bridge the differences between the Jewish and Bedouin communities.

But Ya’alon admitted that, after he submitted the Knesset slate, “serious question marks began to arise concerning Abu al-Kiyan’s credibility and honesty, and I decided to cut off contact with him [as did] the Telem party that I headed, even returning the money to him that he had donated to the party.” They have not been in touch since then, Ya’alon said.

Abu al-Kiyan also had contact with the chairman of the Joint List party, Ayman Odeh, who attended the wedding of his son in 2018, and was in touch with Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and supported him in the primary for the leadership of the Labor Party in 2017. In June 2017, Bar-Lev posted a picture of the two of them on Facebook, and wrote: “From all my heart, I thank my friend Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, the chairman of the Bedouin business forum, who is supporting me for the leadership of the Labor Party.”

Abu al-Kiyan was quoted in the post as saying: “I believe in Bar-Lev. His word is [sacred]. He understands security, understands how important it is to ensure that Jews and Arabs live in peace and particularly helps the Bedouin population. Omer is the right person at the right time and in the right place.”

Bar-Lev said in response for this article that his relations with Abu al-Kiyan “were limited to acquaintance in the context of the primary election for the leadership of the party," that they had not met since and have never spoken about security-related matters.

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