Entries in Ilan Grapel (2)


Egypt Frees Israeli-American 'Spy'

Comstock/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV) -- An Israeli-American law student from New York City was released into Israeli custody Thursday afternoon, four months after he was arrested in Egypt and accused of being an Israeli spy. Israel vehemently denied the espionage charges but freed 25 Egyptians from Israeli prisons to secure 27-year-old Ilan Grapel's release.

The exchange comes just a week after Egypt brokered a landmark deal between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to trade more than one thousand Palestinian prisoners for Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip for more than five years.

Egyptian authorities handed Grapel over to his mother and Israeli envoys to take him back to Israel by private jet. Meanwhile, the 25 Egyptians -- including three minors -- were transferred to the Taba border crossing in southern Israel to cross back into Egypt.

Grapel is originally from Queens, New York and studies law at Emory University in Atlanta. He was in Cairo on vacation and to volunteer for a refugee agency when he was arrested on June 12. He was accused of spying for Mossad -- Israel's intelligence agency -- and charged with espionage. Egypt later lowered the charge to incitement. Israel and Grapel's family repeatedly denied the charges.

"From the beginning, I was assured by the highest levels in Israel that in no way did Ilan have anything to do with espionage, the Mossad or any other type of spy agency," Congressman Gary Ackerman, a Queens Democrat told the New York Post.

Grapel, who is Jewish, joined the Israeli army as a paratrooper and was wounded while fighting in the 2006 war with Lebanon. Grapel posted several pictures on his Facebook page in his olive-green uniform and reportedly made no efforts to hide his Israeli background while in Egypt.

The United States played a key role in getting Grapel released. During a visit to Cairo in early October, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Egypt's interim military leadership to free Grapel. The efforts were sped up as Egypt prepared to mediate last week's prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel. On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the U.S. for its assistance.

The Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported that the U.S. sweetened the exchange by pledging a sale of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.

Analysts point to the Egyptian prisoners being released as evidence that Egypt doesn't genuinely believe that Grapel was spying. All the Egyptians were serving time for criminal acts, not terror-related offenses against Israel. They were mostly smugglers who crossed into Israel illegally, traded weapons and other contraband. Four had already completed their sentences, including the three minors.

The exchange comes at a time of strained relations between the two countries, which signed a peace agreement in 1979. Despite the treaty, Israel is deeply unpopular in Egypt, tension recently highlighted when an Egyptian mob attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo and forced almost of its diplomatic staff to evacuate to Israel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How Much Is One Israeli 'Spy' Worth?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CAIRO) -- Egypt has asked for the release of dozens of Egyptians in Israeli prisons in exchange for one Israeli 'spy' now in Egyptian custody.

Ilan Grapel, a 27-year-old law student at Emory University in Atlanta and a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, was arrested on espionage charges by the Egyptians in June.

According to reports in the Egyptian and Israeli media, the Egyptians presented a demand for the prisoners' release to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during his visit to Cairo last week. Panetta had asked for Grapel's release but was rebuffed. Just prior to Panetta's visit, an Egyptian court ruled that Grapel should be held another 45 days.

Grapel, who was wounded while serving in the Israeli army during the 2006 Lebanon war, was in Egypt working for a non-profit agency. He documented his travels on Facebook, also posting pictures of himself in his Israel Defense Force uniform. His family has insisted that he is innocent, and skeptics have noted that for an alleged Mossad secret agent, he seemed shaky on the concept of "secret."

In an interview on Israeli radio earlier this year, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Grapel was "perhaps a little strange or a little careless," but was just a student. "He has no connection to any intelligence apparatus, not in Israel, not in the U.S. and not on Mars."

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Grapel's status.

Egypt is also currently trying a Jordanian telecommunications engineer and an Israeli citizen for spying. The Jordanian, Bashar Ibrahim abu-Zaid, was arrested in April and accused of collecting intelligence for Mossad. He has pled not guilty. The Israeli, alleged Mossad agent Ofir Harrari, was not arrested and is being tried in absentia.

Both Harrari and Zaid allegedly opened telecommunications companies that would monitor Egyptian communications. Harrari allegedly gave Zaid the job of hiring Egyptians for the companies and tracking Egyptian phone calls. Zaid has denied spying and said he was unaware of Harrari's nationality.

The respected Egyptian paper al-Ahram had also reported in August that the men were part of a plot by Mossad to sell haircare products in Egypt that would render Egyptians infertile. "According to the public prosecutor's office's investigation," wrote al-Ahram, "Mossad agent Ofir Harrari, instructed Jordanian Ibrahim abu-Zaid to set up a company in Egypt which would exclusively important an Israeli hair product, for both men and women, which causes infertility."

The men face charges for the alleged telecommunications plot, not the alleged haircare conspiracy, but prosecutors repeated the accusation about the haircare products in their opening statements. The trial adjourned after a closed session on Sunday, but resumes on Oct. 16.

While several improbable stories about Israeli espionage have surfaced since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, they did not originate with the Arab spring. Stories about Israelis poisoning chewing gum, fruits and vegetables circulated in the 1990s, and last December, prior to the uprising, an Egyptian official suggested that the Israelis were sending sharks to attack tourists in Sharm al-Sheikh to disrupt tourism.

"Conspiracy theories are a big part of our culture," explained Dr. Hani Henry, an assistant professor of psychology at the American University in Cairo. Claims about Israel are especially easy for Egyptians to swallow, said Henry, because of the history of war between the two nations, and because Mossad has engaged in elaborate and lethal spy operations in multiple countries.

Gil Lainer, a spokesman at the Israeli consulate in New York, called the conspiracy theories "slander."

"This is not limited to Egypt," said Lainer. "It's part of a cultural incitement and something that's deeply rooted in some of the societies surrounding us."
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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