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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Cleaner of Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz ‘tried to hoover up secrets and send them to Iran’

As Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz has spent many sleepless nights wrestling with the security challenges of the Middle East.

But he was facing a threat much closer to home on Thursday, as it emerged that his cleaner had been charged with attempting to spy for Iran.

The Shin Bet security service said it had arrested the cleaner on suspicion of offering to spy on Mr Gantz for hackers linked to Tehran – Israel’s arch enemy.

Omri Goren was arrested shortly after he approached an Iran-linked hacking group and told them he had access to the defence minister’s home, Shin Bet officials said.

Cleaner ‘took photographs of numerous objects’

“In order to prove his ability and sincerity, Omri took photographs of a number of objects in different parts of the minister’s house, which he sent to the figure, including pictures of the minister’s computer,” Shin Bet said in a statement.

Mr Goren, who allegedly offered to install spyware on Mr Gantz’s computer, has been charged with espionage and faces a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years if he is convicted.

He is also alleged to have photographed the minister’s property tax statements, a shredder, and some of his electronic devices.

Shin Bet has insisted that the man was arrested before he did any harm, but the incident raises questions about the screening of employees working close to Israeli government officials.

“It should be stressed that in light of operational security protocols in the minister’s house, Omri was not exposed to classified materials and therefore no such documents were transferred to the figures with whom he was in contact,” Shin Bet said.

According to Israeli media reports, Mr Goren had several previous convictions including two counts of bank robbery and had spent four spells in Israeli prisons.

Shin Bet said it had launched a review of employee screening processes “with the goal of limiting the possibility of cases like this repeating themselves in the future”.

A charge sheet submitted to an Israeli court named the Iran-linked hacking group which Mr Goren allegedly contacted as “Black Shadow”. The group has previously been blamed for a cyber attack on an Israeli LGBT dating website.

‘Not exposed to any security-related materials’

Gal Wolf, Mr Goren’s lawyer, told The Times of Israel that his client denies the espionage charges and said that he “was not exposed to any security-related materials”.

Mr Gantz is said to have been targeted numerous times by Iran-linked hackers, including an attempt in 2019 to compromise his personal mobile phone.

Tensions between Iran and Israel have soared in recent years over Tehran’s nuclear programme, which Israel regards as an existential threat.

Both countries have been accused of attacking each others’ ships in the region as part of a so-called shadow war which has escalated over the past two years.

Israel is also suspected of launching attacks on Iranian nuclear assets, such as centrifuges at its secretive Natanz facility.

Iran was also struck last month by a mysterious cyber-attack which paralysed petrol stations across the country.

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