TEHRAN – Iran has sentenced to death an Iranian found guilty of spying for Israel, the Fars news agency reported on Monday, amid spiraling tensions between Tehran and the Jewish state.
The sentence against Ali Ashtari, 43, who was arrested one and a half years ago, was handed down by a revolutionary court and the accused can still appeal the verdict, the agency said.
"The revolutionary court has found Ali Ashtari — a spy of the Zionist regime — to be mohareb (an enemy of God) and sentenced him to death," Fars quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying.
"This is an initial verdict and should receive final approval. The defendant can appeal," the official added.
The verdict comes amid an intensifying war of words between Iran and its regional arch enemy Israel, which has never ruled out military action to halt the controversial Iranian nuclear drive.
According to Ashtari’s confession, published in full by Fars, he was a salesman of telecoms equipment which sought to help the Israeli intelligence service Mossad access secret information from Iranian officials.
Mossad gave him 50,000 dollars to buy Internet cables and satellite phones and then sell them on to "special customers" in the hope of enabling Israel to spy on their communications.
His handlers "introduced themselves as Jacques, Charles and Tony," Ashtari was quoted as saying in the confession. "I had meetings in Thailand, Turkey and Switzerland with them. They gave me some equipment including a laptop through which I could send encrypted emails."
They wanted "me to sell these terminals in Iran to my special customers so they could hack into this equipment.
"I am not sure what they intended to do as before I sold these to my customers I was arrested," he added.
Meanwhile, the Mehr news agency reported on Monday Iran has made changes at its Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), which looks after negotiations with the West in the nuclear crisis.
Javad Vaeedi has been replaced as the council’s deputy head in charge of international affairs by Ali Bagheri, who was previously the foreign ministry’s director general for North and Central European affairs.
Vaeedi meanwhile will become an advisor to the council’s head Saeed Jalili, a close ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the agency said. No explanation was given for the changes.
The move comes after Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday named Jalili as his personal representative on the council.
As head of the council, Jalili is the top nuclear negotiator in talks with the West aimed at ending the five-year-old crisis over the Iranian atomic program.
Tehran is currently considering a package from world powers offering Iran technological incentives if it halts the sensitive process of uranium enrichment which the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons.
(Agencies via Alarabiya)