Shin Bet Says Uncovered Iranian Attempt to Establish Spy Network in Israel

Security service arrested Jordanian businessman it alleges was sent by Iranian intelligence to lay groundwork for future espionage

File photo: A suspect is accompanied by a guard.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Shin Bet security service has uncovered an attempt by Iranian intelligence to establish a spy network in Israel, it said Thursday in a statement.

Iranian intelligence sent a Jordanian businessman to Israel with orders to establish a foothold in Israel and the West Bank, the Shin Bet said.

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The agency arrested in April 32-year-old Ta'er Sha'afut, a Jordanian citizen originally from Hebron, according to the statement. Subsequent investigation yielded that Sha'afut first had contact with Arabic-speaking Iranian agents in Lebanon, and later met his handlers in Lebanon and Syria several times in 2018 and 2019, the security service alleged.

During these meetings, Sha'afut was purportedly instructed to forge business ties in Israel and the West Bank to provide cover for future Iranian operations. During travel to Israel in the summer of 2018 and April 2019, Sha'afut began to build relationships with locals, the Shin Bet said.

The security service further said that Sha'afut suggested to his handlers – and received approval from them – to build a factory in Jordan that would employ Shi'ite Muslims as a base for conducting future Iranian activities. It added that his handlers provided him with a device for encrypted communications that was used to pass information and coordinate meeting, and that Iranian intelligence planned to use him to provide funds to terrorists in the West Bank and Israel. After completing the missions for which he was sent to Israel, Sha'afut was expected to travel to Iran to complete training as an agent.

Sha'afut was indicted by military prosecutors earlier this month for contact with an enemy country, contact with a hostile organization, and conspiracy to funnel money from an enemy entity.

The Shin Bet's announcement came days after Tehran said it had exposed a large spy network run by the CIA and that several American spies had been arrested in several countries.

In February, a Jerusalem court sentenced Gonen Segev, a former cabinet minister, to 11 years in prison for spying on Iran's behalf. Segev served as Israel's energy and infrastructure minister from January 1995 to June 1996, and was arrested in 2018 on charges of delivering dozens of items of information to Tehran with the purpose of harming Israel's security. 

That same month, the U.S. charged a former Air Force counterintelligence specialist who defected to Iran with revealing classified information and research about former coworkers to Iranian government representatives.