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'Kidnap' Israeli denies spy charge

Herzl Rad, an Iranian-born Israeli, pleaded not guilty in the Jerusalem district court yesterday to spying for Iran and endangering Israeli security. If convicted, he could spend up to 15 years in prison.

Mr Rad, 31, was detained more than two months ago, but the arrest and closed-door hearing were kept secret until details of the case were leaked on Monday in the London-based Arabic weekly Al Wassat. Only then was military censorship lifted, and some details are still classified. Ze'ev Schiff, dean of Israeli military commentators, said he was caught before he could do any serious damage.

Israeli government lawyers confirmed yesterday that Mr Rad was charged with spying for Iran. They alleged that he had volunteered his services to the Iranian embassy in Turkey and had subsequently visited Iran.

According to the Israelis, he was arrested in Israel after returning home at the end of April. A report in Al Wassat that he was abducted in Turkey by the Mossad external-security service - evoking parallels with the kidnapping of the nuclear whistle-blower, Mordechai Vanunu from Italy in 1986 - was officially denied.

The defence lawyer, Zion Amir, said Mr Rad was kidnapped and tortured by the Iranians and tried to commit suicide in an Iranian prison. He had come back to Israel to report on the terrible things that were done to him in Iran.

The case has revived demands in Israel for less secrecy in spying and other high-security trials. According to the law, a magistrate or district judge can decide that such a case will be heard in camera, and the prisoner can be held for up to 60 days without legal representation. Secrecy may prevail for years after a conviction.

Yosef Amit, a major in Israeli army intelligence, served seven years of a 12-year sentence for espionage before the case was disclosed in 1993. The same year, censorship was lifted in the case of a biology professor, Marcus Klingberg, who had already spent 10 years in jail for passing germ- warfare secrets to the Soviet Union.

n London - The Rad affair has brought Mossad under the spotlight at a time when it faces demands to reduce its budget and its semi-independent status, writes Adel Darwish.

Despite the official denial, a former official connected with Mossad believes that, in the same way Vanunu was lured from London to Rome to be kidnapped and taken to Israel for trial, Mr Rad was lured from Austria to Turkey in late May. Two hours after his arrival in Istanbul, it is said, he was kidnapped, drugged by Mossad agents and put on board an El- Al flight to Tel Aviv.

Until finishing his national service in 1988, Mr Rad lived with his family, who set up a textile business in Jerusalem. In 1989 he travelled to the US, where he spent most of his time since. In Los Angeles he formed a business relationship with members of the prosperous Iranian community and, it is claimed, Iranian agents recruited him.

The Israelis were tipped off about his visits to Iran by a West European intelligence service. According to this version, the decision to kidnap him was taken in early spring.

The former Israeli official said an operation on this scale could not be carried out without the approval of the inner cabinet or the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.