Israeli says Iran tried to lure him to UAE

Israeli blogger says Iran tried to lure him to UAE in attempted kidnapping
3 min read
16 April, 2021
Matan Hirsch, an Israeli travel blogger and photographer, says he was contacted by Iranian intelligence operatives through fake Instagram profiles.
Israel has urged its citizens to avoid traveling to the UAE and Bahrain [Getty]

An Israeli blogger has claimed that Iranian intelligence agents attempted to persuade him to travel to the United Arab Emirates, a few days after Israel’s spy agencies accused Iranian intelligence of using fake social media accounts to lure Israeli citizens abroad in order "to harm or abduct them".

Matan Hirsch, a travel blogger and photographer, said he was contacted through fake Instagram profiles.  

“A profile named Mary Vidal contacted me,” he told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “I answered one or two of her messages. I saw something was weird in her profile. There were only four pictures, all having to do with Israel.”

The person behind the profile tried to convince Hirsch, who runs the Instagram account The Traveling Israeli, to visit her in Dubai and “even sent me a Happy New Year message at the end of the year.”

The Israeli government urged its citizens last year to avoid traveling to the UAE and Bahrain, which have both recently normalised ties with Israel, citing threats of Iranian attacks.

Hirsch said he suspected the profile to be fake, but blocked it only after Israeli intelligence said that Iranian agents had been engaging in orchestrated attempts to lure Israelis overseas with business offers or romantic propositions.

He urged people to take steps to ensure the authenticity of the profiles contacting them online.

In a statement on Monday, the Israeli internal intelligence organisation Shin Bet said it was "genuinely concerned" that Iranian activities "could lead to attempts to harm or abduct Israelis,” a similar tactic used by Iran against regime opponents in Europe.

Read also: Iran used fake Instagram accounts to try to nab Israelis - spy agencies

The agency said the Iranian activities were being carried out "in various countries with links to Israel and with Israelis", including Arab and Gulf countries, Turkey, and countries in the Caucasus, Europe and Africa.

An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP there was "at least one case of a citizen who left for a foreign country in order to conduct a meeting" after being in touch with a suspicious social media account.

"The person was warned by (Israeli) intelligence and returned (home)," the official said.

The warning from the intelligence agencies followed an act of sabotage Sunday at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment site, which Iranian authorities blamed Israel for. 

Iran began enriching uranium Friday to its highest level ever, edging closer to weapons-grade levels, as a response to the suspected Israeli attack and to pressure talks with the US and other world powers in Vienna aimed at restoring a 2015 nuclear deal.

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