שב”כ מפרסם כתבי אישום נגד אל-קיעאן ימים לאחר שתיקון עולם מדווח על מעצרו הסודי בגין ריגול
Today, Israel’s Shin Bet lifted a gag order and filed formal charges against Yaquub al-Qiaan claiming that he spied for Iran on an Israeli defense minister and offered it secret information about Israeli military plans against that country. I broke the story two days ago based on a report from a confidential Israeli source. I then approached an Israeli security source about the information conveyed to me. The result was 24 hours later the gag was lifted and charges filed.
This development shows the power of good reporting and the courage of Israeli sources willing to buck the security apparatus, expose its opacity, and inform the public of what is done in its name. Had I not reported this story, Al-Qiaan would still be languishing secretly in an Israeli prison and the public would have no way of knowing that one of its citizens had been disappeared for nearly a month with no contact permitted with his attorney.
No Israeli media report on this story acknowledged my role in reporting and breaking it. Hard to say if this is a deliberate omission. But at the very least it’s shoddy journalism.
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The indictment charges the suspect with a wide-ranging conspiracy to convey to alleged Iranian agents secret information of military value. Further, it details a claim that al-Qiaan was a leading member of the Bedouin community who joined the Telem Knesset list of former defense minister Bogie Yaalon. Through his connections with Telem, the charge sheet claims, al-Qiaan learned privileged information about planned military attacks by Israel. It doesn’t specify what sorts of attacks, but given that his contact alleged he was an Iraqi with close relations to Iranians, it’s safe to say that it implies he offered information about attacks against Iran. It adds that he also conveyed details about the activities, plans and physical location of defense minister Gantz, who they referred to by the code name “Our Boy,” and details of Israel’s military-security relationship with the US. This included a major weapons deal which was concluded during Gantz’s recent visit to the US. He also offered his contact details of Israel’s dealings with Saudi Arabia and UAE, major enemies of Iran.
The defendant planned with his Iraqi contact to arrange a meeting in one of several Arab countries which was to include Iranian agents. However, the COVID pandemic made such a trip impossible. Later, Israeli authorities rejected the Israeli suspect’s attempt to obtain a travel visa, which prevented him from traveling abroad.
The motivation for Al-Qiaan was payment by the Iranians for the services he provided. It does not mention how much he was paid or how payment was conveyed to him.
UPDATE: After I published this post, an Israeli security source confirmed that key claims in the indictment are false. In fact, al-Qiaan had no relevant information to give the Iranians. He was bluffing, inflating his status in order to curry favor with the Iranians. Nevertheless, he is being charged with passing information to the enemy even though he offered nothing of any value:
“Abu al-Qiaan lied to the Iranians, claiming to have secret info. He’s a liar, not a spy. The reason for charging him is deterrence: we hope that any other Israeli – Arab or Jew – who gets an offer from an Iranian agent, will tell us immediately about it.”
It’s a terribly cynical approach which sacrifices a poor, clueless sod on the altar of national security.
I cannot speculate on the credibility of these charges and whether al-Qiaan did any or all of the things of which he’s accused. But it’s worth noting that the indictment specifically refers to a Bedouin business initiative called Ofek (“Horizon”) organized by al-Qiaan and wealthy entrepreneurs to advance their financial interests and those of the Bedouin community itself. Clearly, the Shabak was suspicious of this phenomenon, because it involved these businessmen conducting commercial activity and travel to foreign countries. Because they are, in effect, Israeli Palestinians, this would give them access to foreign markets and business contacts which ordinary Palestinians would not have. Such contacts aroused the suspicion of the security services, who already perceive Palestinian citizens as security threats by the very nature of their ethnicity.
Further, it’s important to keep in mind that these charges are only one side of the story. Unlike in a true democracy, the accused in an Israeli security case cannot offer a public defense or even explanation of his actions. This, of course, gives the State a clear advantage in painting a portrait of the accused as a master spy and criminal. It deprives the suspect of any recourse and leaves him at the mercy of the security apparatus and judicial system, which is deeply entwined with the former.
Based on my previous reporting in such cases (Dirar Abusisi and Ameer Makhoul, among others), its quite clear what the eventual outcome will be: Al-Qiaan will either refuse a plea deal and languish in prison for years without trial; or he will agree to a plea deal and accept 10 or 15 years in prison. The deal permits the Shabak to say the accused admitted his crimes as part of the agreement. It offers the security apparatus a perfect record of obtaining convictions and conveys to the public a false sense that they “always get their man” and that they are omniscient and invulnerable (which they aren’t).
I note that at the end of the charge sheet the prosecution lists a large number of “witnesses” who will testify to their role in the investigation. Some of these will be interrogators and investigators. But the number is too large to be confined only to such a group. Several of the code names used for the Shabak agents are Arab, which leads me to suspect that there may have been a sting of some sort by the security agency to entrap al-Qiaan. It’s possible, though this is just speculation, that the entire conspiracy was concocted by it for the purpose to catching him in its web.
It’s hard to say whether this scandal is meant to tarnish the reputations of Gantz and Yaalon, who presumably vetted Al-Qiaan before adding him to the Telem Knesset list. They are back-pedaling as fast as their feet will take them in order to dissociate themselves from the alleged spy. Suffice to say, that when a Knesset candidate is charged with espionage it doesn’t make the political party look good in the security-obsessed Israeli society.