The Shin Bet security agency and the Israel Defense Force recently exposed a network sponsored by the Iranian intelligence apparatus in Judea and Samaria. The network was recruited and funded by an Iranian intelligence agent living in South Africa, according to information released for publication on Wednesday.
According to the Shin Bet, the key suspect arrested in the operation is Mohammed Maharmeh, a 29-year-old computer engineering student from Hebron.
Maharmeh was reportedly enlisted to the service of Iranian intelligence by a relative, Bahar Maharmeh, who lives in South Africa. The Shin Bet said that "Iranian intelligence used South Africa as a key arena for locating, recruiting and deploying agents against Israel."
Maharmeh, who had been operating on the orders of figures within Iranian intelligence, invested effort and resources into recruiting agents from Judea and Samaria and from Israel for the purpose of engaging in espionage for the Iranians.
Under this framework, Bahar Maharmeh took advantage of Mohammed Maharmeh's 2015 visit to South Africa to recruit him to the Iranian network.
Bahar even introduced Mohammed to a number of Iranian agents, some of whom came especially from Tehran to meet with them.
The computer engineering student was tasked with a variety of missions to advance terrorist efforts against Israel, including recruiting a volunteer for a suicide attack and recruiting a terror cell to commit shooting attacks. He was offered explosives and weapons training and asked to open an electronics store in the Hebron area for the purpose of transferring photos to Bahar and the Iranians.
He was also tasked with recruiting Israeli Arabs to take espionage photos inside Israel.
Maharmeh was also expected to transfer Israeli SIM cards and money to Iran. The Shin Bet suspects these items were to be used in terrorist attacks against Israel.
Mohammed Maharmeh also recruited two operatives from Hebron – Nur Maharmeh and Diaa Sarahana – both 22. The two agreed to establish a terror cell with guidance from Iran, and Mohammed Maharmeh received $8,000 from Iran as a reward.
In addition to the trove information that the investigation yielded, it also emerged that Maharmeh was asked to recruit Israeli citizens, including journalists, to make use of their access to various sites in Israel, namely official sites.
In recent days, an indictment was filed against Mohammed Maharmeh on charges of contact with a hostile organization, accepting enemy funds and attempt to organize unlawfully.
Nur Maharmeh and Diaa Sarahana were also indicted for conspiracy and attempt to organize unlawfully.
The Shin Bet said that the exposed network demonstrates the scope of Iranian involvement in mobilizing terrorism against Israel. It also clearly shows how far Iran's tentacles reach all over the world, in its efforts to harm Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded Wednesday to the discovery of the network, saying, "The Shin Bet, together with the IDF, exposed and thwarted the efforts of a terrorist network in Judea and Samaria that was operating under the auspices of Iranian intelligence. This is not the first time – they are making attempts in different avenues and in other areas to harm Israel. I am pleased that the Shin Bet and our security forces are successfully stopping them.
"I would like to focus attention on the fact that Iran is operating in terrorist and aggressive ways against the state of Israel not only by assisting terrorist organizations, like Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, but also by trying to establish terrorist networks within Israeli territory, against Israel's citizens."