"We don't have any connection with any of those who stand
trial now in Iran," said an Israeli Foreign Ministry
spokesman on Monday in Israel in response to reports that one
of the jailed Iranian Jews had confessed to being a spy for
Israel. "We don't have anything new to say from what we have
said in the past."
In a broadcast on state television Monday evening, Dani
Tefilin confessed that he spied for Israel. "I have been
accused of espionage for Israel. I do accept this charge. I
have been spying for Israel. In my trip to Israel in 1994, I
was trained for my activity in Iran," Dani Tefilin told the
Earlier, a senior judicial official said Tefilin had
confessed to passing sensitive military secrets to Israel's
spy agency, Mossad. "His case is finished," said Hossein Ali
Amiri, the provincial judiciary chief. Amiri said Tefilin had
asked the court for clemency. He did not know when a verdict
was expected, but he said the trial should be over within
weeks. He said that three others also confessed. In
explaining the arrests a year ago, the Iranian authorities
said that those detained had spied for Israel and the United
States. In yesterday's proceedings only Israel was
Tefilin's court-appointed lawyer, Shirzad Rahmani, said the
confession is not enough to convict. He said that under
Iran's law, the state has to prove its case with evidence,
and it must prove specifically that information damaging to
Iran and beneficial to Israel was actually exchanged. If not,
"there can be no charge of espionage," Rahmani said.
In this and all Iranian court cases, the judge acts as
investigator, prosecutor and jury. Such a situation raises
concern about the fairness of the proceedings and it was not
clear if the limitations of Iranian law noted by Rahmani
would be observed.
Tefilin was the first of the suspects to be arrested more
than a year ago. His brother, Omid Tefilin, also is among
those charged though he was released on bail a few months
On Monday Navid Balazadeh, one of those freed on bail in
February, stood outside the courtroom waiting to be called
in. "The charges of espionage against me are completely
false," Balazadeh said. "We have been treated well, and I
trust the judge to be fair."
Observers said it was too early to determine whether Tefilin
will bear the full weight of the case alone, or if his
confession will be used to punish others as well.
No foreign observers were allowed to monitor the court
proceedings, though the defendants' families and other
members of Iran's Jewish community, as well as Western
diplomats and foreign journalists, were in attendance outside
the courthouse in Shiraz, 550 miles (880 km.) south of
Israel has steadily denied that any of those accused worked
for it, and the confession was seen as the result of pressure
and possibly promises from Iranian authorities.
The case has aroused international interest. U.S. Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright has said the case is "of strong
concern" to her, and has mentioned it on several occasions.
Various diplomats and independent human rights groups
including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan have focused
interest on the case. French authorities have raised the
issue in meetings with Iranian leaders.
Convictions and heavy sentences in the spy case could provoke
an international backlash. Iranians convicted of spying
usually receive long prison terms, but they can be executed.
Two Jews were executed three years ago.
The case has also been caught in the middle of a conflict
between the reformers led by Iranian president Mohammed
Khatami and the Islamic hard-liners which has heightened in
recent weeks. The reformers won a sweeping victory in recent
elections, apparently winning 29 of 30 contested seats.
However the hard-liners must publish the official results and
so far they have refused to do so. They recently ordered a
third recount of the votes.
The Iranian judiciary, which is controlled by hard-liners,
closed 16 pro-democracy newspapers and arrested six reformist
activists in the past two weeks, after the elections.
Some observers fear that the fate of the Jews may depend on
who has the upper hand in those broader struggles.
President Mohammed Khatami said that he is worried by the
deteriorating domestic situation and fears an eruption of
violence. Last July there were violent riots and there have
been reports that various groups, both conservative and
reform oriented, have made preparations for new clashes.
Iran maintains religion has no bearing on the case and notes
that eight Muslims also have been arrested. It has rejected
foreign interest in the case, saying that it is an internal
The next session in the case was scheduled for Wednesday.