Iran’s Alleged Israeli Spy: A Former Cabinet Member Once Jailed for Drug Smuggling

Gonen Segev was a rising star in Israeli politics who crashed and burned in 2005 and has since been living in Africa. Now the Israeli government says he was spying for Iran.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

JERUSALEM — In a remarkable coda to the life of an enigmatic former wunderkind, Gonen Segev, once an Israeli fighter pilot and one of the youngest men elected to Israel’s parliament was today accused of betraying the State of Israel to its arch-enemy, Iran.

Israel’s security services revealed that Segev, 62, was detained last month as he attempted to enter Equatorial Guinea, which refused him entry due to an Israeli request and turned him over.

In a case whose details remain mostly under a gag order, Segev is charged with providing Tehran information on secure locations within Israel, on the energy industry, and on the identities of political and military officials. Formally, he is charged with espionage, assisting an enemy in wartime, and providing information to an enemy.

The extent of the damage Segev has caused remains unknown due to the wide-ranging gag order.

While such a denouement come as a surprise, Segev has never been easy to parse. His political career began in 1992 in the hardline right-wing party Tzomet.  Two years later he switched sides to serve as Minister of Energy and Infrastructure in the moderate, mid-nineties government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. His vote in favor of the Oslo Accords was considered crucial in passing the historic 1995 peace deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Reached today, Eitan Haber, Yitzhak Rabin's chief of staff and right-hand-man said he recalled Segev as a man “obsessed with money. It was money, money, money, always. He was money-crazed.”

First elected a member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in 1992 at the precocious age of 35, his political  career came to a stunning end in 2005 when he was arrested for attempting to smuggle 32,000 ecstasy pills into Israel from the Netherlands, claiming he thought they were M&Ms.

He avoided a search by Dutch authorities by forging an extension to his diplomatic passport.

In 2005, he was sentenced to five years in jail and a fine of $27,500, but was released in 2007 having served two thirds of his term as an exemplary prisoner.

Following his criminal conviction, he lost his medical license in 2007. Since his release he has lived in Nigeria, ostensibly working as a doctor and businessman.

In November 2016, he requested the reinstatement of his license to practice medicine in Israel. His attorney, Yoram Pomerantz, explained at the time that “Gonen Segev is asking to return to the country since he feels like he is serving an endless punishment. He did what he did, nobody can argue otherwise, but many years have passed since.”

Pomerantz added that Segev “even received an official appreciation letter from the head of security at the Foreign Ministry, for saving the life of an Israeli member of the diplomatic delegation.”

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

Now, Israeli intelligence, having apparently followed Segev for years, claims that Segev “knowingly” worked as an agent of Iran since 2012, when he was approached by two Iranian representatives in Nigeria.

Israeli media reports he has told interrogators the Iranians initiated contact under the guise of discussing medical equipment with him.

“Segev gave his handlers information about [Israel’s] energy sector, about security locations in Israel, and about buildings and officials in diplomatic and security bodies, and more,” the Shin Bet, Israel’s FBI, said in a statement.

The investigation, jointly run with the Israeli police, determined that Segev traveled to Iran twice for meetings with agents of Iranian intelligence.

In a revelation out of a John le Carré novel, Segev, whose family name is a Hebrew word meaning exaltation, is alleged to have encountered his handlers in apartments and hotels Iran maintains around the word for the purposes of covert activity.

He is also charged with receiving an encrypted communications system to conceal messages exchanged between him and headquarters.

Reached today, an astonished-sounding Pomerantz, Segev’s attorney in the failed attempt to restitute his medical license, refused comment saying “we don’t handle criminal matters. I’m reading this stuff in the paper just like everybody else.”

In the Thursday indictment, parts of which were not unsealed until Monday, Segev is accused of nurturing contacts with former Israeli diplomatic, military and intelligence officers now working in Africa, and attempting to introduce them to Iranian intelligence agents acting as “innocent businessmen.”

None of Segev’s Israeli contacts is suspected of knowing any of their meetings were related to Iran, and some Israeli intelligence experts believe the information Segev possessed was not up to date.

The Jerusalem District Court ordered Segev kept under arrest in a Shin Bet facility until further notice.

His next court hearing is scheduled for July 9.

In a statement issued Monday, Eli Zohar and Moshe Mazor, the attorneys representing him in the current imbroglio, said, “At the request of the State, most of the indictment remains classified. Even at this early stage, we can say that the material that was unsealed and publicly revealed paints an extremely severe picture, different from that of the indictment as a whole.”