Iran International issued a statement Thursday saying that Iranian intelligence targeted its senior correspondent in Israel, in an operation uncovered by Israeli intelligence this month.

Without providing many details, the statement [Jan. 13] said that Babak Iztzhaki in Jerusalem was the target by individuals recruited by Iran's Intelligence Ministry in Israel. The statement does not elaborate on the exact nature of the threat but says that Iran’s action “as part of a continued campaign of intimidation against Iranian journalists, is most strongly condemned as yet another abhorrent attack on the freedom of the press.”

But information released by Israeli authorities show that some of the suspects approached the Iran International bureau and tried to befriend Iztzaki and gather information. Their ultimate aim is not known at this point.

Israeli domestic intelligence service Shin Bet disclosed on Wednesday[Jan. 12] that it had successfully uncovered and broken up a spy ring created by Iran’s intelligence whose members were Israeli Jewish citizens with Iranian roots.

Authorities have arrested four women and a man who were recruited by Iranian agents over the Internet and persuaded to collect sensitive information and deliver to their handlers in exchange for relatively small amounts of money.

“Through coercion and manipulation of members of the Iranian community in Israel, actions by the Iranian regime have willfully endangered the security of Babak Itzhaki, his family and other members of the Iran International bureau in Israel,” Iran International said.

Itzhaki is one of few Persian speaking Israeli reporters who keep Iranian audiences informed about current affairs in Israel and stories related to long-running tensions between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic. But the clerical government in Tehran regards Iran International Television and other foreign-based Persian broadcasters as enemies of the regime and regularly tries to intimidate journalists working in these media outlets. Harassment of their family members in Iran by intelligence services is a routine matter.

In September 2019 Iran abducted Ruhollah Zam, a Paris-based Iranian journalist by luring him to Iraq, where intelligence agents captured him and took him across the border to Iran. He was tried behind closed doors as a spy and executed in December 2020.

“The Iranian regime has sought to infiltrate the bureau in Israel as part of its global campaign to harass, intimidate and cause harm to Iranian journalists and their families,” the statement by Iran International said, and vowed that its journalists “will continue to work in defense of freedom of expression and of the press.”

Spying by five Israeli citizens for Iran came as a shock. “With their grave actions, those involved put themselves, their families and innocent Israeli citizens at risk, as their information was transferred to Iranian intelligence, in addition to the information that was handed over about Israeli sites and American sites in Israel, which would be used for terrorist purposes,” a senior Shin Bet official said on Wednesday.

Iran International called on governments and institutions “who support freedom of expression and who are advocates of free and independent journalism, to vigorously condemn the recent actions of the Iranian regime.”

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