Israel’s internal security service said on Wednesday it had uncovered a suspected Iranian spy ring working out of the West Bank.
The Shin Bet said three Palestinians under arrest had admitted to carrying out missions assigned to them by Iranian handlers, Reuters reported.
Their tasks included recruiting other Palestinians to take part in suicide bombings or shooting attacks against Israelis, it said.
The main West Bank operative is believed to be Mahmoud Makharmeh, 29, from Hebron. It is believed that he was recruited by Iranian intelligence via a relative, Bahkar Makharmeh, living in South Africa.
In its statement, the Israeli security agency also said that “it became clear, during the… investigation, that Iranian intelligence used South Africa as a significant arena for locating, recruiting and running anti-Israel agents in the West Bank.”
Tensions between Israel and South Africa are running high after the ruling African National Congress announced it would downgrading its Tel Aviv embassy to a liaison office “in order to give our practical expression to the oppressed people of Palestine”.
The Shin Bet did not make it clear whether they suspected South African knowledge of Iranian operations in their country.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the Shin Bet “exposed and foiled a terrorist network in Judea and Samaria that operated under the aegis of Iranian intelligence.
He continued: “Iran is using terrorism against the State of Israel not only with the assistance of terrorist movements such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, but is also attempting to organize terrorist actions inside the State of Israel and against the citizens of Israel.”
A lawyer for the three men said that they denied the charges against them.