Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, better known by the acronym Shin Bet, accused Iran of plotting and creating cells planning to hit Israeli targets.
It said it had cracked a Palestinian militant cell suspected of having been recruited and handled by Iranian intelligence officers who worked out of South Africa.
Israel’s intelligence said in a statement on Wednesday that 29-year-old Mohammed Maharmeh of Hebron is suspected of being enlisted by a relative in South Africa and working as an Iranian operative.
Shin Bet said three Palestinians from the occupied West Bank had been indicted on espionage and terrorism charges after they confessed to accepting Iranian-assigned missions, including preparation of a suicide bombing and providing their handlers with Israeli cellphone SIM cards.
In its statement, the Shin Bet said the suspects’ point of contact was a Palestinian who lived in South Africa and had been recruited by Iranian intelligence. It gave no indication whether the South African government knew of the alleged Iranian activity, or of the Palestinian expatriate’s whereabouts.
“It became clear, during the Shin Bet investigation, that Iranian intelligence used South Africa as a significant arena for locating, recruiting and running anti-Israel agents in the West Bank,” the Shin Bet said, adding that several Iranian officers had traveled there “from Tehran” for the operation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday the case showed that “Iran operates in a subversive and terrorist manner ... not just in aiding terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, but also in attempts to organize terror activities within the State of Israel against its civilians”.
A Shin Bet veteran interviewed by Israel Radio about the case suggested the purported South African link may be unprecedented.