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'Spy' in Egypt immigrated to Israel from US

Ilan Grapel in Tahrir Square carrying a poster which calls US President Barack Obama stupid. Source, Ilan Grapel's Facebook acco

Jeffrey Heller | Reuters
JERUSALEM | 13 Jun 2011

An alleged Israeli spy arrested in Egypt is an American immigrant to Israel who once wrote that he hoped to promote Israeli policies in the Arab world, according to information he and others provided on websites.

The man, detained on Sunday in a development that could strain Israel’s relations with Egypt’s new leaders, was identified by the Egyptian MENA news agency as Ilan Chaim Grabel, a misspelling of his family name, Grapel.

The Israeli ambassador to Cairo said on Monday that Israel was looking into the case. The US embassy in the Egyptian capital said it was working to confirm Grapel’s identity and citizenship.

In his Facebook page, Grapel made no secret of his presence in Egypt, writing that he was “preaching at Al-Azhar,” an Islamic university in Cairo, and that he had studied at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The reference to Al-Azhar later disappeared from the page.

A judiciary source in Egypt said the arrested man had been active in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolt against Hosni Mubarak, after the former president stepped down.

A statement issued by Egypt’s public prosecutor said the suspect, ordered held for 15 days, had been sent to Egypt to recruit agents “trying to gather information and data and to monitor the events of the Jan. 25 revolution.”

Photographs of Grapel on the Facebook page, on the website of the Israel Project, a pro-Israel group where he trained in media relations in 2008, and in the on-line newsletter of an organization that raises funds for Israeli soldiers, matched those in a video clip of the suspect released by Egypt.

Wounder soldier

Articles about Grapel’s military service in Israel appeared in the New York Daily News and Israel’s Haaretz newspaper in 2006. They said he had been wounded in the Lebanon war that year while serving as an Israeli paratrooper and had immigrated to Israel in 2005 from Queens, New York, at the age of 22.

“He is a very special guy. He’s an Arabist,” Tsiki Ood, who said he was a friend of Grapel’s, told Israel Radio, describing him as an American immigrant. “He’s very intelligent ... He spoke Arabic. I hope he gets out of this trouble.”

After the war, Grapel spoke in the United States at fundraisers for wounded Israeli soldiers, according to the Internet newsletter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces organization, which also cited his injury in Lebanon.

It showed him in his paratroops uniform standing next to US fundraisers and Israeli diplomats at functions in Chicago and Houston in 2006.

Two years later, Grapel took part in the Israel Project’s media fellows program in Jerusalem on “educating top young leaders in how to educate the press on Israel and Iran.”

In a comment that appears on the Israel Project’s web page about the program, Grapel said he had been impressed by an Israeli Foreign Ministry’s official’s briefing on conveying Israel’s positions to the Arab world.

“It would be very rewarding for me if I were to be able to communicate as effectively (as the official) in such anti-Israel environments,” Grapel wrote.

Ex-Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former pointman in Israel’s relations with Egypt, said he hoped the arrest was not an attempt to “put peace into total freeze.” Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.


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