The cellphone of Benny Gantz, Israeli Blue and White party chairman and main rival to current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was apparently hacked into in recent months to obtain messages and personal information that could be used against him in the upcoming elections, according to an Israeli TV report on Thursday.
According to Israel’s Channel 12, Israeli intelligence and security agency Shin Bet informed the party leader that his phone had been breached shortly after announcing his election bid after Iranian programmers got hold of his personal details and text messages, revealing both personal and profession information.
Gantz’s party confirmed the report in an official statement.
“We don’t comment on issues that are at the heart of state security,” it read. “It is important to emphasize that this incident happened four years after Gantz finished his tenure as chief of staff, [a fact] that raises many questions regarding the timing of the report’s publication.”
No classified information was apparently on the device, said the Channel 12 report.
The Israeli censor approved the publication of the information before journalist Amit Segal went on air with the story, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
Gantz is poised as a the main front-runner to potentially unseat Netanyahu’ as the premier faces several charges of corruption.
But the issue of election interference through various means has been a concern voiced by many officials ahead of the snap election scheduled for April 9.
In the lead-up to the vote, Shin Bet warned of attempts by unspecified “foreign nations” to influence the Israeli vote and amid a global crackdown by big tech companies amid anxiety that social platforms are being used to manipulate elections by distributing fake news reports that inflame political divisions and confirm voters’ biases.
In response, Israel’s election committee urged technology giant Facebook to step up its monitoring of subversive practices on its social network and bring forward the launch of the tool intended to prevent foreign meddling.
Facebook ads have been at the center of an FBI investigation over Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US election that saw Donald Trump take office, as well as in votes across Europe.
Since Israel votes with paper ballots, any cyber election meddling would likely involve efforts to manipulate public opinion by spreading false information online.