BERLIN — A disgraced former Israeli cabinet minister who once smuggled 32,000 ecstasy tablets disguised as M&M's will be jailed for 11 years for spying for Iran.
Gonen Segev is believed to be the highest-ranking Israeli official to publicly admit to spying for Iran, which does not recognize Israel's legitimacy as a state.
Israel’s justice ministry said Segev, a former lawmaker who served as minister of energy and infrastructure in the mid-’90s, had been recruited by Iran while working as a doctor in Nigeria after leaving politics and being convicted of drug-smuggling.
He was accused of providing Iran with details about security sites in Israel, and about Israeli officials in political and security bodies.
Segev was convicted in 2005 of smuggling ecstasy out of the Netherlands to Israel using a forged diplomatic passport.
After serving three years of his five-year sentence he was stripped of his medical licence but still found work as a doctor in Nigeria.
Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, said last year that Segev had admitted speaking to Iranian embassy officials in Nigeria in 2012 and twice visiting Iran to see his handlers.
Lawyers for Segev had said the 63-year-old believed he was in contact with Iranian officials with the knowledge and permission of Israeli intelligence services, and that no actual state secrets had been compromised.
But prosecutors dismissed this account, according to legal filings and Israeli media reports, arguing that while they could drop the more serious treason charge because Segev did not give helpful information to the Iranians, it was because he lacked access to such materials since his 2004 drug smuggling arrest, and he had actively pursued gathering newer information for Iran.
Segev will be formally sentenced next month.
In the past, Israeli politicians accused of aiding the enemy have usually come from either the country’s sizeable Arab minority or from Israeli’s hard left opposed to the internationally recognized occupations of land won in the 1967 war with all of its neighbors.
“Yes it turns out even a Sabra Kibbutznik [native-born Israeli] can be a traitor huh,” said a Ministry of Defense official who cannot be identified because of close ties to Israeli intelligence agencies. “It was a rare bit of good cooperation between the external intelligence services, military intelligence and of course the Shin Bet. Traitors tend to help agencies that are often competitive focus their efforts and cooperation.”
When asked about Segev’s claim that he was working an informal intelligence operation with the knowledge of Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence service, the Ministry of Defense official responded to BuzzFeed News with a poop emoji and refused further comment via a secure messaging service.
Since the early 1980s, Iran and Israel have been locked in an intense conflict that usually involves intelligence operations and proxies but have periodically openly directed attacks against each other’s military, diplomatic, and civilian targets. Much of the bloodshed and intrigue developed around Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon from 1979 to 2000, where the Israel Defense Forces and local militia allies waged an ultimately unsuccessfully fight to keep Israel’s northern border out of the hands of Iran and its close proxy/ally Hezbollah.
Mossad itself was hit by a similar scandal in 2010 when revelations that a Mossad employee — a former field agent assigned office duties — had attempted to conduct his own intelligence operation against Hezbollah while on holiday in Bulgaria. Precise details have not been released but that effort quickly went wrong and the Mossad employee, known initially as Mr. X due to strict Israeli censorship laws, became a spy for Hezbollah instead. News of his arrest and essential disappearance into Israel prisons only became public after Mr. X killed himself in a prison cell in 2010. It wasn’t until 2013 that he was finally identified as Ben Zygier, an Australian Jewish lawyer recruited by Mossad, who lived and worked under the name Ben Alon, or Ben Allen, in Israel.
Owing to Israeli military censorship laws regarding the media, it’s possible — albeit unlikely — other lawmakers have been secretly tried or convicted for similar crimes as Segev admitted.