31 December Ha'aretz

Israeli-Aussie convicted in spying bid for Iran

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The Tel Aviv District Court convicted Monday Mark Idan of trying to contact a foreign spy. Idan's verdict will be given at a later date. The state prosecution would probably ask for him to be sentenced to two years in prison.

The state prosecution in November indicted Idan, 37, for contacts with Iran. Shin Bet security service and police detained Idan at the end of October.

Idan admitted to the Shin Bet that he entered the Iranian embassy in Cyprus, presented himself as an Israeli who served in the army, and offered to work the Iranian government.

Idan's attorney, Guy Planter, said that Idan cooperated with his investigator and underwent a polygraph test. "He did what he did out of personal distress and not because of an ideological or financial motive," Plenter said.

Israeli security officials played down Idan's link to Iran, saying the affair is "unimportant."

Idan was born a Catholic in Italy and grew up in Australia. He arrived in Israel in 1987 and worked as a volunteer on Kfar Masaryk kibbutz in Western Galilee. He stayed, married a kibbutz member, and by marriage became a citizen and permanent resident. He has worked at a number of jobs in Israel, mostly on the kibbutz, and abroad. Idan did abbreviated service in the Israel Defense Forces' infantry and tanks corps, and occasionally in the reserves.

Idan traveled to Cyprus in 1999, partly to arrange a divorce. In Nicosia, he turned up on the doorstep of the Iranian embassy and offered a clerk his Australian passport with a note inserted in it saying "I am an Israeli soldier, and want to work for your government."

The embassy clerk photocopied Idan's passport and told him an official was being assigned to handle his case and would be available in a few days. The language of the indictment suggests this embassy handler designated for Idan was an Iranian intelligence officer.

Three days later Idan went to the embassy and was given a note with the name of the handler and a direct phone number to the embassy. After several days Idan called the number, only to be told the nominated officer was still not available and that he should phone again the following day. Idan phoned the next day, using his alias, and spoke with the official who then told him his superiors were not interested in Idan's offer. The language of the indictment suggests this embassy handler designated for Idan was an Iranian intelligence officer.

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