Ali Mansouri -- who was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport on suspicion of espionage -- sits at the Petah Tikva District Court on the first day of his trial, on September 30, 2013
Ali Mansouri -- who was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport on suspicion of espionage -- sits at the Petah Tikva District Court on the first day of his trial, on September 30, 2013 © Jack Guez - AFP
Ali Mansouri -- who was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport on suspicion of espionage -- sits at the Petah Tikva District Court on the first day of his trial, on September 30, 2013
AFP
Last updated: September 30, 2013

Israel court remands Iran spy suspect

An Israel court on Monday remanded in custody for eight days an alleged Iranian spy, arrested on September 11 carrying photographs of the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

Israel on Monday remanded in custody for eight days an alleged Iranian spy, arrested on September 11 carrying photographs of the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

News of his arrest was made public Sunday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for Washington and New York, determined to expose what he described as "sweet talk" by Israel's arch-foe Iran.

An AFP cameraman at the court said that in his first public appearance Ali Mansouri, 58, was silent and motionless as he sat in handcuffs, wearing a brown prison uniform.

He not yet been charged.

The decision to lift a gag order on the arrest was made at "a high level," Israeli media quoted a police representative as telling the magistrates court in Petah Tikvah, near Tel Aviv.

Defence lawyer Michal Okabi remarked during the hearing, according to a transcript, that usual practice was to lift reporting restrictions only after charges against a suspect had been filed.

Top-selling Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot was suspicious of the timing, suggesting the announcement of the arrest deliberately coincided with Netanyahu's US trip, where he intends to counter the conciliatory rhetoric of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

"Israel is trying to embarrass the Iranians in response to the successful public relations campaign that Rouhani conducted in the US in the past week," Yediot's defence commentator Alex Fishman wrote.

Public radio's veteran defence correspondent Carmella Menashe echoed those suspicions, citing security sources as saying "national interest considerations" including Netanyahu's US trip were at play.

Israel's President on Monday sought to counter Rouhani's so-called charm offensive, saying "the only way to test Iran's intentions is by deeds and not just words."

"The program to develop long range missiles which can carry nuclear warheads is being expanded and the Revolutionary Guards continue to support terror organizations," he said in a statement.

Israel's Shin Bet security service says that Mansouri, who holds a Belgian passport, was sent to Israel by Iran's elite Republican Guards and arrested at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion international airport as he sought to leave the country.

The domestic intelligence service, directly responsible to Netanyahu's office, said in a Sunday statement that Mansouri had enrolled in a "special operations unit of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for numerous terrorist attacks around the world".

He had been using the alias Alex Mans after being recruited last year, the agency said, naming his four alleged handlers as senior Iranian officials.

The Shin Bet said that under questioning, the suspect had said he had been promised $1 million (740,000 euros) to use his position as a businessman to set up companies in Israel on behalf of the Iranian intelligence services to "harm Israeli and Western interests".

He had previously visited Israel in July 2012 and last January, the agency said.

An Iranian national, Mansouri married a Belgian woman in 2002 and they divorced in 2007, Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Sunday.

Okabi told reporters outside the courtroom that the facts of the case were not so black and white as the security service alleged.

"The apocalyptic picture painted by the Shin Bet is far more complex and the attempt to say that our client came here in order to carry out attacks on Israel is far from the truth and without foundation," she said.

"We are forbidden from giving further details," she said, as the investigation was still in progress.

Netanyahu, due to meet US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, has been dismissive in his response to the drive by Rouhani to mend fences with the international community, which culminated in a historic 15-minute telephone conversation with Obama on Friday.

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power, remains adamant that Iran is bent on developing a nuclear weapons capability, something it regards as a threat to its existence.

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