Man accused of spying on chief of staff for Hezbollah
Indictment against Tirah resident reveals how close Hezbollah has gotten to Israel's No.1 soldier: Rawi Sultani, recruited in Morocco, informs Shiite group handler of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi's workout schedule and gym companions. Spy allegedly communicated with group via email, trips abroad
Cleared for publication: An indictment was issued Monday in the Petah Tikva District Court against a 23-year-old resident of Tirah for threatening State security. Rawi Sultani was indicted for allegedly being recruited by Hezbollah to collect details on Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Sultani, arrested following a complex and involved investigation carried out by the International Crimes National Investigation Unit, was indicted for offences against national security, including transferring information for the benefit of the enemy, contact with a foreign agent, and conspiring to commit a crime.
Sultani, who works out at the same gym as the chief of staff in Kfar Saba, passed on information to his Hezbollah operators via email and meetings abroad.
Defense establishment officials have reported that the chief of staff's regular travel routes and methods have been modified in order to prevent information to be gathered on his whereabouts following the news report of the spying affair.
According to the indictment issued by the Central District Prosecution, initial contact between Sultani and a Hezbollah operative was made when Sultani attended a youth camp in Morocco in August 2008. While there, he befriended Salman Harb, aLebanese youth who reportedly revealed to him that he was active in Hezbollah. During their meeting, Sultani told the operative that he works out at the same gym as the IDF chief of staff. At this stage, he was not asked to take any action, only to stay in contact with the Hezbollah youth.
Later, the Hezbollah operative wrote to Sultani to invite him to Poland. Sultani left for Poland in December, where he met with the operative's brother, Sami Harb. Sultani was told that Salman could not get an entry visa to Poland. Sami asked Sultani at the beginning of their Poland meeting to provide him with information on IDF bases and soldiers. Towards the end of the meeting, he started asking him questions about Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi.
Gabi Ashkenazi. Sensitive information passed on (Archive photo: Gadi Kablo)
He asked about the location of the gym, including its various workout machines and their characteristics, ways of accessing the gym, entrance protocol for members and guests, gym security arrangements, the location of security guards and how they were armed.
Sultani also transferred to Harb's brother various ways of accessing the country club at which he and the chief of staff work out. In addition, he told the operative's brother what at what times the chief of staff usually works out, whom he comes to the gym with, and what clothes he wears.
A day after their meeting, Sami gave Sultani an activated email address for the two to keep in touch. In addition, he gave him a disc with an encryption program on it.
Rawi Sultani in court (Photo: Ofer Amram)
Sultani returned to Israel and continued to be in contact with the Hezbollah operative. Sultani was arrested in December for investigation. He admitted to meeting with Hezbollah representatives in Poland and to providing them information on Ashkenazi.
Sources in the defense establishment said following the report Monday that Ashkenazi's routine will be changed following the discovery of the plot.
Sultani's father, Attorney Fuad Sultani, said that his son was exploited and that he is innocent. "My son was maliciously exploited by these agents. The accusations are apparently politically-based," said the senior Sultani, who is representing his son.
A classified investigation of the issue has been carried out in recent weeks. An indictment was filed against Sultani Monday.
Desire to avenge assassination of Mughniyeh
Defense officials noted that this is a particularly egregious event in which sensitive information on a senior personality in Israel was transferred to Hezbollah while the Shiite organization is making great efforts to carry out an attack to avenge the assassination of Hezbollah commander, Imad Mughniyeh. The Shin Bet has recently warned against Hezbollah attempts to recruit Israelis via various methods, including the internet, to obtain sensitive information on Israeli figures and facilities.
This event only increases the severity of the incident in which Cpl. Louis Mascotta stole the chief of staff's credit card information from his office and sold it to Arabs from the Triangle. Officials in the defense establishment said, "It is not the first time that terrorist operatives use criminal offenders, who are willing to do anything in exchange for money. The potential damage of the breaking and entering into the chief of staff's office is severe."
The most recent case of Hezbollah spying on Israel was revealed last February. Ismail Muhammad Suleiman was arrested by the Haamakim Subdistrict Police officers in early February, after he allegedly met with a Hezbollah handler during a Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
According to the indictment, Suliman's handler instructed him to gather intelligence about Israeli Defense forces' activities in the north. The two are also believed to have set up a second meeting, during which Suliman was to give his handler the information.
In January, the Petah Tikva District Court sentenced 29-year-old Khaled Kashkush of the Arab-Israeli town of Qalansuwa to four years in prison, after finding him guilty of contacting a Hezbollah agent.
Raanan Ben Zur, Hanan Greenberg, and Eli Senyor contributed to this report