Israel’s ex-army chief – and frontrunner in the country’s upcoming elections – dismissed claims Iran stole a sex tape in a cyber-attack on his phone, calling the reports “political spin”.
Benny Gantz denied he was compromised by the Iranian phone hacking incident that Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, revealed to him a month ago.
The former general instead hinted supporters of incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have been behind rumours that a sex tape was among the embarrassing material extracted from Mr Gantz's personal device.
Details of the security breach were leaked to Israeli network Channel 12 on Thursday night.
“I'm not under threat of extortion, there is much more serious problem here than [my] phone. Somebody is making a spin here, making a big problem out of what doesn’t exist,” he said Friday afternoon.
He was speaking on the Gaza border at a special press conference to discuss the security situation after two rockets targeted Tel Aviv the night before.
“The telephone is nothing. There is nothing about me. It is petty gossip,” he added.
Lt. Gen Gantz, who is head of the centrist Blue and White party, had earlier said on Twitter there was no security information or embarrassing videos on the targeted phone.
Channel 12 reported that intelligence officials informed the former chief-of-staff of the security breach in February, as he launched a new joint elections alliance and a bid for the premiership.
The intelligence officials allegedly told him it meant Tehran had access to all information stored on his personal phone, including photos and videos.
They apparently said it made him a potential security risk as the information could be used to tamper with the election process.
Commentators in Israeli media on Friday questioned how secure the 9 April elections would be if Iran knew personal details of one of the main contenders.
Lt. Gen. Gantz said the leaks were intended to distract the nation from the worsening security situation.
Many feared Israel and Gaza were on the brink of another war on Thursday night, when two long-range rockets fired from Gaza reached as far as south Tel Aviv.
Hamas, the militant group that runs the strip, denied any responsibility for the rocket attack, which Israeli intelligence officials said may have been fired by low-ranking Hamas without official authorisation.
Israel responded by pounding a hundred targets within Gaza. Egyptian officials, who were in the enclave at the time of Thursday’s assault on Tel Aviv, stepped in to broker another ceasefire, which tentatively holds.
Lt. Gen Gantz urged on Friday “strict, stern and continuous policy" against Hamas.
His Blue and White Party, which is pitted to sweep the largest number of seats in the elections, also questioned the timing of the security breach leak.
“It should be emphasised that this event took place 4 years after Benny Gantz completed his service as Chief of Staff and therefore raises important questions as to the specific timing of publication of this news item,” they said in a statement.
In January, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman warned that a foreign country intended to intervene in Israel's upcoming election via hackers and cyber-technology.
Mr Argaman said at the time it remained unclear what the foreign nation's political interests were but that "it will meddle – and I know what I'm talking about."
This would not be the first Iranian cyber-attack on Israel.
During Israel’s military incursion in Gaza in 2014 Israeli cyber-defence officials reported a widespread cyber attack, including attempts to target governmental agencies, financial services and military agencies.
Iranian hackers were believed to be behind many of them.
Mr Netanyahu hopes to win the elections, securing him a fourth consecutive term in office.
However, the embattled premier is campaigning under the shadow of possible indictment on corruption charges.