Iranian Spy Network Exposed, and Why That Helps Me Sleep Better

Clearly Israel’s capabilities in intelligence and espionage are far superior to Iran, but our leaders must not become overconfident

Illustration. A number of Israelis are now facing legal troubles after being duped by an Iranian intelligence agent on Facebook. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Israel’s Shin Bet (internal security service) last week revealed to the public an unusual case in which Jewish Israeli citizens were unknowingly performing tasks for an Iranian intelligence agent. On the one hand, this incident shows how difficult it is for Iran to infiltrate Israeli society. On the other, however, it illustrates how, despite its shortcomings, Iran remains persistent in its efforts to commit acts of terror on Israeli soil. This is worrisome.

The Iranian intelligence agent went by the name Rambud Namdar and was able to make contact with Israeli citizens through Facebook groups designated for Israelis who are of Iranian origin. Namdar presented himself as an affluent Jewish person from Iran and used this identity to recruit Israelis to perform tasks for cash. He wrote private messages on Facebook and spoke to the Israelis about longing for Israel and his life in the Jewish community in Iran. A number of Israelis unwittingly fell for the ruse.

The Israelis performed a number of tasks for the Iranian agent, including sending him pictures of protests, voting booths in the elections for the 23rd and 24th Knesset, and many areas in Tel Aviv, such as the Central Bus Station, public parks and police stations. Some of them were requested to send pictures of the Knesset, court houses and even the US Embassy. One of them was also asked to direct her son, who is enlisting in the IDF in the near future, to land in an intelligence unit.

Despite the severity of their actions and being appalled by how these Israelis could be duped by an Iranian agent, learning about this incident actually helps me sleep at night. It gives us insight into how Iran is trying to operate inside Israel and displays the gaping asymmetry between Israeli and Iranian intelligence capabilities.

Throughout recent years, we have seen what an Israeli intelligence operation against Iran looks like. Israel has been able to assassinate the most senior nuclear scientists in Iran, including the head of the country’s national nuclear project. The Mossad successfully infiltrated a heavily-guarded nuclear facility and stole thousands of secret files. In addition, Israeli intel helped facilitate the US assassination of Iran’s Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq.

Thankfully, Iran’s efforts do not come close to Israel’s superior capabilities. Tehran can only dream of having operatives like Israel’s Eli Cohen (in Syria) infiltrate the heart of Israel’s government. In the meantime, as far as we can see, the Islamic Republic is having trouble recruiting valuable assets.

They were only able to enlist a few middle-aged women who were far from centers of influence and decision-making. Moreover, some of the requests the Iranian agent made indicate that they most likely do not have enough solid information on Israeli society. He requested images of very common sites like Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. Such images you could simply find through a quick Google search.

However, while the content of what the agent was able to uncover is unimpressive and indicative of the Islamic Republic’s inability to infiltrate Israel, Israeli leaders should not let this superiority lead them to acting with overconfidence.

In addition to Iran’s shortcomings, this incident also teaches us that the Islamic Republic is persistent in making assiduous efforts to harm the Jewish State. Despite their relative weakness, their operations to execute terror against Israelis are vast. They try via cyber-attacks, through proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, by building up their military presence in Syria, and also by recruiting Israeli citizens.

All it takes is finding one Israeli blind spot and a terrorist attack on Israeli soil can be carried out.

In the past, too much overconfidence in Israel’s military capabilities has been costly. Many scholars have highlighted that Israeli “hubris” was one of the leading factors causing its unpreparedness for the Yom Kippur War in October 1973. The unfathomable victory during the Six-Day War in June 1967 brought Israeli military confidence to new heights. Following the war, it was believed by many in Israel that the Jewish State was invincible against the surrounding Arab armies. Approaching October 1973, even though there were clear signs of a military buildup by Egypt and Syria and an imminent attack, it wasn’t taken seriously enough by Israel’s most senior leaders. As a result, Israel’s forces were not prepared for the “surprise” attack on the Jewish State.

Of course, this is not to say whatsoever that Israel is on the brink of a similar type of war. Nor can it be said that Israel is operating under the same conditions. Nevertheless, it shows that Israel must not allow for hubris to blind it from Iran’s restless will to hurt the Jewish State.

Thus, although the recent incident of Iran’s recruitment of a few Israelis actually helps me sleep at night, I go to bed thinking that every minute of the day Tehran is looking for Israel’s blind spot.

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