Shin Bet Exposes Iranian Attempts to Lure Israeli Businessmen and Academics abroad Through Impersonation and Deception

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By TPS • 19 May, 2022

Jerusalem, 19 May, 2022 (TPS) — Iranian intelligence agents’ attempts to lure Israeli academics and former senior members of the defense establishment abroad by contacting them while impersonating academics, journalists, businessmen, and philanthropists were exposed and thwarted, the Shin Bet security agency revealed Thursday.

The Shin Bet found that the Iranian agents were using authentic identities of foreign entities who were unaware of the use made of their identity, unlike previous exposed Iranian schemes which involved using fake identities.

The contacts with the Israelis were made while presenting a “cover story” to gather information about the targets and draw them abroad with the intention of kidnapping or harming them.

“It is a well-known method of operation of the Iranian intelligence and security bodies, headed by the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Qods Force and the Ministry of Intelligence,” the Shin Bet said.

Contact with Israeli citizens was made by e-mail, using an address similar to the authentic “stolen” address, changing a letter or sign. After making initial contact with the Israeli target, he was asked to switch to a conversation on WhatsApp through a new phone number that was unfamiliar to him.

The Israeli citizens who received these suspicious inquiries refrained from responding to them and alerted the security forces.

The authentic identities of Israeli academics and reservists were also used, including through the use of their photos from the academy’s websites and social networks.

In one instance, the identity of Professor Oliver Thränert, a well-known Swiss researcher in the field of security, was stolen for this purpose. The Iranian agent who impersonated Prof. Thränert contacted a number of Israeli citizens and invited them to attend a conference in a European country. The request was based on the professor’s authentic name and his email address. The agent who impersonated Oliver sent Israelis files and links supposedly related to the conference.

The Israeli citizens to whom the invitations were made became suspicious and clarified the issue with Thränert, who denied the existence of the conference and feared that his email had been hacked. A number of Israelis were already on the verge of going abroad following these invitations, and the exposure of the method thwarted this plan.

In another case, the authentic identity of a journalist named Con Coughlin was used while offering Israeli citizens to write an article for the Gatestone Institute.

Together with this method, Iranian attempts to connect with Israeli citizens on social media through fictitious profiles continue.

A senior Shin Bet source stated that “as part of the affair, many profiles used by Iranian intelligence agencies were located, and a great deal of information was gathered about the factors behind the operation. The vigilance of the citizens contributed to the thwarting and prevented serious incidents.”

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