Photo: Flash90

Gantz’ housecleaner indicted for Iran spy attempt

A staff member at the residence of Defense Minister Benny Gantz has been charged with espionage on behalf of “an agent identified with Iran.

By Erin Viner

The Israeli Security Agency (ISA, also known as the Shin Bet) has released for publication details of ongoing operations this month that resulted in the arrest of Omri Goren (Gorochovsky).

In a statement obtained by TV7, the ISA said the suspect “offered to assist” the unnamed individual with whom he was corresponding on social media “in various ways, given his access to the minister’s home” where he was employed as a “handyman and cleaner,” including the possible installation of malware on Gantz’ computer.

Local media is reporting that Goren was in contact with a member of the Iran-linked Black Shadow hacker group. Despite his efforts to delete previous cellphone activity, investigators have reportedly been able to trace the suspect’s deliberate attempts to contact Black Shadow via an account he opened on Telegram under a false identity, usage on Google Translate from Hebrew to English, and photographs of the Defense Minister’s work desk, personal tablet, a router with a visible IP address, telephone, property tax receipts, box labeled with IDF-related numerals, a safe, a shredding machine, mementos from Gantz’ former tenure as IDF Chief of Staff and personal family images.

The 37-year-old was allegedly sought financial compensation for selling the sensitive information to Black Shadow after being inspired by the group’s cyber warfare against the government and other targets in Israel last month.

While “the rapid counter-operation by ISA thwarted the intention of the accused which could have harmed the security of the state,” the intelligence agency stressed that Goren “was never exposed to classified materials and no such material was transferred to the agents with whom he was in contact.”

The ISA investigation was conducted with the Israel Police Lahav 433 Special Criminal Investigations Unit, the Attorney General’s Office “with the knowledge of Defense Minister Gantz.

According to Israeli media reports, Goren’s criminal record includes 5 convictions, 4 prison terms and indictment on 14 separate charges between 2002 and 2013. His offenses include 2 bank robberies, burglary and theft.

“In addition to the successful counter-operation, the ISA decided to conduct an investigation regarding the background check in order to prevent the possibility of a recurrence of such incidents,” underscored the ISA statement.

The Public Defender’s Office has assigned attorney Gal Wolf to represent the suspect, who has been indicted on espionage charges by the Lod District Court. While it is not immediately clear whether he has entered a plea, Wolf told Kan public radio that his client intended to extract money without ever actually carrying out any espionage.

Earlier this month, a separate group calling its “Moses Staff” claimed to have hacked into multiple Israeli companies. The group was already on Israel’s radar after it published photographs of Defense Minister Gantz it claimed to have acquired from military servers amid a cyberattack on hundreds of other websites in October.

Gantz’ was also targeted in March 2019 when his cellphone was hacked by criminals believed to be affiliated with Iran.

Israel and Iran are believed to be engaged in a covert “shadow war allegedly involving cyber and military attacks on the other side, particularly on the high seas.

Tehran accused Jerusalem and Washington of responsibility for a major cyberattack in October that caused major disruption to gas distribution. The Ayatollah regime has also blamed Israel for numerous incidents it said were designed to sabotage its nuclear development program, including  last year’s assassination of atomic scientist Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizade, a fire at the Natanz facility in July 2020, and the Stuxnet computer virus – widely believed to have been developed by Israel and the US – that affected centrifuges used to enrich uranium struck the same facility in 2010.

According to report by Microsoft, Israel is listed as the 7th most targeted country in the world for cyberattacks, with the number of attacks attributed to Iran quadrupling. The Islamic Republic has also reportedly stepped up attacks in the cybersphere against the United States and member countries of the European Union.