Israel Says Iran Hacked Ex-general Gantz's Phone Ahead of Election

Former army chief Gantz's party confirms he was warned by Shin Bet of the Iranian breach, which raises concerns over interference in Israel's upcoming election

Benny Gantz attends a campaign convention in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva on March 11, 2019.
AFP

The cellphone of Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's biggest rival and the chair of the political alliance Kahol Lavan, was hacked by Iranian intelligence, Israel's Channel 12 reported Thursday evening. 

Gantz's Kahol Lavan party confirmed the report in an official statement that read: "We don't comment on issues that are at the heart of state security. It is important to emphasize that this incident happened four years after Gantz finished his tenure as chief of staff, [a fact] that raises many questions regarding the timing of the report's publication."

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According to the report by journalist Amit Segal, Gantz was approached by two officials from Israel's Shin Ben security service five weeks ago, during the election campaign, and was informed that his private device was breached. The two told Gantz that the hack into one of his devices occured around that time, during the election campaign, and that the Iranians have the content of his phone.

The report said that the Shin Bet officials clarified to the ex-Israel Defense Forces chief that this meant Tehran had access to all kinds of information he may have stored on his phone: personal and professional. Gantz was also informed that this served as a potential security risk, seeing as Iran might unveil information it finds on his cellphone after the election, or tamper with the election process. 

According to the report, the Shit Bet told the former general was told that he could "proceed according to his own judgement." 

Due to the sensitivity of the report, Segal noted that the Israeli censor approved the publication of the information before he went on air. 

The Shin Bet did not comment on the report. 

Concerns over foreign interference in the Israeli election have been voiced by Israeli officials in the lead-up to the ballot.

In January, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman said that a foreign country intends to intervene in Israel's upcoming election via hackers and cybertechnology. Argaman said it remains unclear at this point what the foreign nation's political interests are, but that "It will meddle – and I know what I'm talking about."

Last month Haaretz reported that Israel's National Cyber Directorate warned that cyber attacks could influence the outcome of the upcoming election as early as last October, nearly three months prior to a similar statement made by the head of the Shin Bet.

The threat is the stream of assaults on state facilities, Yigal Unna said at a conference on high tech at the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic Center of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, which was also attended by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Israel Defense Forces' outgoing Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

“They do not shut down a country, but they impact its ability to function: disrupting electricity, banks, finances and election results,” said Unna, adding that "Israel is in a fairly good condition in terms of its cyber security, but not in the best place in which it could be."