Several Iranian officials say they had no contact with a female Jewish journalist who allegedly 'infiltrated' state media and befriended high-ranking officials.
Hardliner media say supporters of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are behind the allegations and rumors on social media and some websites about the French-born Jewish journalist and political analyst Catherine Perez-Shakdam's alleged connections with Iranian officials to gather intelligence for Israel.
Social media has been awash with allegations that Perez-Shakdam, a Jew who converted to Shiism, gathered intelligence for Israel. A Telegram channel run by Ahmadinejad supporters recently claimed she had 'infiltrated' Iranian media and regularly contributed to Khamenei's English-language website.
Where others faced obstacles, Shakdam repeatedly appeared on the state-run English channel, Press TV, as a commentator, wrote articles for state-affiliated media including the Revolutionary Guards-linked Tasnim News Agency and even the English website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Tasnim news agency Monday quoted an "informed source" that Shakdam had been in Iran a total 18 days on five visits. "The claims are journalistic fantasies and an untrue propaganda and political script," the source told Tasnim, which is linked to the IRGC. Other state media, including the official news agency IRNA, offered a similar account, citing a judicial official.
Fars news agency Sunday slammed claims that Shakdam had been a "regular contributor" to Khamenei’s website, pointing out she had just contributed a few articles and opinion pieces between 2015 and 2017.
Shakram - who has also contributed to Russian state media (with blonde hair in a picture by-line), the BBC, and the Huffingdon Post - roused the Ahmadinejad supporters with a November blog post for The Times of Israel in which she wrote she had tried to "blend in" and hide her "true motivations" when visiting Iran during the 2017 presidential election, when she interviewed Ebrahim Raisi, then a candidate.
Belly of the beast
“I nevertheless walked right into the belly of the Beast – invitation in hand, by the request of the very government whose motto calls for the death of all Jews and the annihilation of Israel,” Shakdam wrote. She said holding a French passport and her former marriage to a Yemeni Muslim gave her “a free pass to many Islamic countries.”
In the past few days Ahmadinejad supporters have also claimed that Shakdam had close or intimate relations with dozens of officials including Yadollah Javani, the managing director of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) weekly, Sobh-e Sadegh, and Hamidreza Moghadamfar, Deputy chief of the organization that publishes Khamenei's works and runs his website.
In a statement to the media on March 1, Javani said he never knew Shakdam or been connected with her and alluded to the allegations in a note in Sobh-e Sadegh this week in which he said enemies have targeted the IRGC to discredit it among Iranians.
Abdollah Ganji, the former managing director of another IRGC-linked publication, Javan newspaper, also wrote in Hamshahri newspaper Sunday that Shakdam could not have been an Israeli spy as claimed.
Ganji argued that an infiltrator would not learn methods of infiltration and form connections with key officials only to expose herself and the intelligence organization behind the operation for no reason.
"Where in the world will a woman establish intimate connections with a hundred people to gain their trust to extract information and spy and then destroy all the bridges after building trust?" he wrote about unsubstantiated claims of some media outlets that Shakdam has confessed to having established such relations with Iranian officials.