JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughest rival in Israel’s upcoming parliamentary election, dismissed as “political gossip” on Friday media reports of allegations that his mobile phone had been hacked by Iranian intelligence.
The former Israeli armed forces chief was speaking near the border with Gaza following a day which saw the most serious escalation in months between Israel’s military and Palestinians in the coastal enclave.
“We’re in the middle of an ongoing security event…and someone’s putting out a political gossip story,” Gantz said. “I do not think Benny Gantz is the story here. There’s no security issue there. No threat and no blackmail.”
Israel’s Channel 12 news reported on Thursday that the country’s Shin Bet security services believed Iranian state intelligence had accessed the ex-general’s personal information and correspondences and had informed him of the hack five weeks ago.
Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party has outpaced Netanyahu’s conservative Likud in polls in the run-up to the April 9 vote.
Israel and Iran, arch-enemies, have long been locked in a shadow war. “Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis,” Netanyahu told a cyber-security conference in January.
Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, and which sabotaged components of Iran’s nuclear program.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)