Gantz, Netanyahu’s Challenger, Faces Lurid Questions After Iran Hacked His Phone

NAHAL OZ, Israel — Benny Gantz, Israel’s former army chief, can be campaigning to lead his country as the clean, moral alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces indictment in a corruption scandal.

yet less than a month before the election, Mr. Gantz found himself fielding seamy-sounding questions late Friday about whether he had committed adultery, opened himself up to possible extortion or sandbagged his political allies to advance his own career.

The awkward news appearance here at a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip followed a report on Israeli television of which Mr. Gantz’s cellphone had been hacked by Iranian intelligence after his entry into politics in December in addition to of which personal in addition to professional information had been stolen.

Mr. Gantz retired coming from the military in 2015, so the issue can be not whether classified information might at This specific point be in enemy hands, yet of which he could be vulnerable to blackmail if elected. The hack threatened to set back his bid, which polls have shown has the strongest chance of any opposition politician to depose Mr. Netanyahu. With rumors flying about what might have been harvested coming from Mr. Gantz’s cellphone, his party, the Blue in addition to White, issued a statement saying the stolen data included “no security information, no embarrassing videos, in addition to he was never a target of blackmail.”

of which was not enough to put a lid on the speculation, however, in addition to so the laconic Mr. Gantz, whose campaign strategy has entailed saying as little as possible, hastily arranged his first news conference.

His backdrop was the Gaza border, where a wave of Israeli airstrikes hit early Friday after two Hamas rockets had reached Tel Aviv for the 1st time since the summerlong war of 2014. of which allowed Mr. Gantz, who prosecuted of which war as army chief, to try to shame the Israeli press into focusing on more sober matters.

“We are here in a story of an ongoing security event,” Mr. Gantz said, glowering in front of a barbed-wire fence, to dozens of journalists who had trekked the hour coming from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem shortly before the start of the Sabbath. “in addition to within the reality we are in, someone suddenly broke some political, gossipy in addition to completely delusional story.”

Given of which his party’s statement said there were no videos, he was asked, might there be embarrassing photos or correspondence? “I’m not going to stoop to of which place,” he said, calling the idea “unethical nosiness.”

Did he ever have a relationship that has a woman of which could be the basis for extortion? another reporter ventured. “I’m not subject to extortion under any circumstances,” he said, again refusing to go there.

Mr. Gantz’s centrist Blue in addition to White party can be leading Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud within the polls in terms of the number of Parliament’s 0 seats the idea can be anticipated to win. yet the prime ministership can be determined based on which leader can forge a majority governing coalition, a measure on which Mr. Gantz in addition to his partners trail the incumbent in addition to his right-wing allies.

On Friday, Mr. Gantz flatly accused the prime minister of being “behind the reports about the telephone.”

Mr. Gantz was informed of the hacking in early February by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. of which was before he joined forces with Yair Lapid, a former finance minister whose Yesh Atid party was trailing Mr. Gantz within the polls. Mr. Lapid agreed to let Mr. Gantz sit at the top of the ticket under an agreement of which would likely have them swap the prime ministership midstream if they win.

yet Mr. Gantz did not apprise Mr. Lapid of the Iranian hack before striking of which deal. In fact, Blue in addition to White party officials said on Friday, Mr. Lapid in addition to the two some other former army chiefs of staff running alongside Mr. Gantz, Moshe Yaalon in addition to Gabi Ashkenazi, were not informed of the breach until shortly before Thursday’s television report.

Asked why he had not apprised his political brethren sooner, Mr. Gantz was dismissive. “Yair in addition to the others aren’t relevant to This specific story,” he said.

None of his three comrades, who have routinely campaigned alongside Mr. Gantz, joined him at the late-Friday news conference — though all three publicly echoed his contention of which Mr. Netanyahu, who oversees the Shin Bet, had orchestrated the leak to damage him.

Mr. Lapid said Mr. Netanyahu’s “use of sensitive security material to try to smear Benny Gantz proves he can be scared of him.” in addition to Mr. Yaalon told a TV interviewer of which Mr. Netanyahu wanted to distract attention coming from the criminal cases in which he can be accused of bribery, fraud in addition to breach of trust.

The prime minister’s office said of which the chief of the Shin Bet, who reports directly to Mr. Netanyahu, had not briefed him or his aides about the hacking. His Likud party denied any hand within the leak.

A security official involved within the matter said of which Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in addition to Security, which has been engaged in a long-running spy-vs.-spy battle with Israel’s Mossad on multiple continents, had hacked Mr. Gantz’s phone in addition to was behind a series of some other cyber attacks against Israel.

The incident was reminiscent of one early in Mr. Netanyahu’s rise to power. In 1993, he admitted to having an extramarital affair after he said anonymous rivals had threatened to Discharge a compromising videotape. No tape was ever produced, in addition to Mr. Netanyahu accused an archrival of being behind the scandal.