File picture: Kamran Jebreili/AP

Johannesburg – The cold war between Israel and Iran has moved to a new battlefield, that of the South African public space.

The Iranian Embassy in Pretoria has categorically denied that Tehran is using South Africa as a ground for recruiting agents to carry out attacks on Israel.

The embassy told the African News Agency (ANA) in a press statement that it strongly denied reports in the South African media last week following a press release from the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria, based on an intelligence report by Israel’s domestic intelligence agency the Shin Bet, that a three-man cell with South African and Iranian links had been arrested in the West Bank.

The media reports stated that three Palestinians were arrested by Israeli security forces, among them the main suspect, a 29-year-old computer engineering student named Mohammed Maharmeh from the Hebron area in the southern West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet, Maharmeh was recruited into Iranian intelligence by a relative, Bahar Maharmeh, who resides in South Africa.

The Shin Bet further alleged that Mohammed Maharmeh visited South Africa in 2015, when he was allegedly recruited by his relative.

Read: Israeli intelligence agency claims Iran is using SA to recruit agents

The intelligence agency added that Bahar introduced Mohammed several times to Iranian agents who visited South Africa.

“Various assignments were delegated to Mohammed including facilitating attacks on Israeli targets. These tasks included recruiting a suicide bomber and a cell that would carry out shooting attacks,” said the Shin Bet.

But the Iranian Embassy accused the Israelis of “fabricating baseless allegations to detract public opinion away from accusations of Palestinian human rights abuses, the continued occupation of Palestinian land and the killing of oppressed Palestinians”.

The embassy told ANA that Israel was also attempting to divert international public attention away from its military occupation of land belonging to others by threatening other countries, in addition to making false allegations.

The embassy added that in giving a historical perspective to this oppression it also wished to remind people of the “strong support and close cooperation between the Zionist Regime of Israel and the former Apartheid Regime of South Africa”.

African News Agency/ANA