Ex-Israeli minister’s alleged spying for Iran raises more questions than answers

There are reports that Gonen Segev was in Iran’s sights even before he fell foul with the Israeli law.
Wednesday 27/06/2018
Iranian connection. A file photo showing former Israeli Energy Minister Gonen Segev (C) at the Tel Aviv district tribunal, in 2004. (AFP)
Iranian connection. A file photo showing former Israeli Energy Minister Gonen Segev (C) at the Tel Aviv district tribunal, in 2004. (AFP)

LONDON - Allegations that a former Israeli government minister provided Iranian intelligence with sensitive information stirred debate in Israel but a gag order on the case has kept details from being known.

Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, said in a statement that Gonen Segev was extradited from Guinea to Israel on suspicion of “committing offences of assisting the enemy in war and spying against the state of Israel.”

Segev, 62, served as energy and infrastructure minister in the 1990s. He was arrested in 2004 for drug trafficking and, after his release from prison in 2007, left Israel for Nigeria. He relocated to Guinea in May.

“An investigation by Shin Bet and the police found that Segev was recruited and acted as an agent on behalf of Iranian intelligence,” read the Shin Bet statement. “Segev gave his (Iranian) handlers information related to the energy market, security sites in Israel, buildings and officials in political and security bodies and more.”

Shin Bet said that, although Segev had been residing in Nigeria at the time of his alleged dealings with Iran, he maintained connections with Israeli citizens and put them in touch with Iranian agents who posed as businessmen.

Segev visited Iran twice after making contact with his handlers at the Iranian Embassy in Nigeria in 2012, Shin Bet said.

Lawyers representing Segev disputed Shin Bet’s account, which they said was misleading.

“Even at this early stage it can be said that the permitted publication attributes extreme gravity to the events, even though within the indictment, of which the full details remain confidential, a different picture is painted,” said a statement by Segev’s lawyers.

Segev is reported to have told Shin Bet interrogators that he was lying to the Iranians. “I wanted to fool the Iranians and come back to Israel a hero,” Israeli Channel 10 TV quoted Segev as saying during his interrogation.

Security experts said Segev’s medical centre in Nigeria gave him access to people representing Israeli defence companies. Details of their credit cards, e-mail and cell phones could have been passed to Iran.

“In today’s cyber era, Segev’s connections with and information about people in the Israeli defence, energy and foreign policy arenas are worth a great deal more and have a much higher potential to harm Israeli national security,” wrote Haaretz, citing security experts.

“Via malware, such information can be exploited in the Iranians’ huge databases for cyber-attacks against defence companies and other strategic sites in Israel.”

There are reports that Segev was in Iran’s sights even before he fell foul with the Israeli law.

“Gonen Segev’s affair with the Iranians didn’t begin in 2012. In the 1990s, he was spotted by Kais Obeid, an Israeli Arab from Tayibe who worked at Hezbollah’s service and saw the former national infrastructure minister as potential prey… The Hezbollah agent detected Segev’s potential to cross the lines before anyone else,” wrote Ron Ben-Yishai in Ynet.

Israeli observers said they were perplexed why Segev allegedly betrayed his country to Iran.

“The fact that a man like him — who falls under the definition of ‘salt of the earth’ according to every Israeli standard — was allegedly tempted to betray the country raises a lot of questions and doubts,” wrote Ben-Yishai.

“He isn’t the first person to do it but he is the most senior official in the Israeli government establishment who aided Israel’s most bitter enemy.”