Speaking at the Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu said Israel was “working without respite” to thwart attempts by Iran and its proxies to attack Israel, including “in neighbouring countries that are not in conflict with us”. Image Credit: AFP

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Mossad spy service announced on Thursday that its agents inside Iran seized the head of an alleged Iranian hit squad that planned to kill Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus.

The Mossad, which rarely speaks to the media, said the man had given investigators a detailed “confession.” It said the information was relayed to authorities in Cyprus, where security services dismantled the cell.

The Israeli claim could not be immediately verified, and there was no immediate comment from Cyprus or Iran.

“We will reach whoever foments terrorism against Jews and Israelis around the world, including on Iranian soil,” said the Mossad statement, quoting an unnamed senior agency official.

Israel considers Iran its greatest enemy, citing the Iranian government’s calls for Israel’s destruction and support for hostile militant groups. It also accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear bomb — a claim that Iran denies.

Israel routinely strikes Iranian targets in neighbouring Syria and is believed to be behind a string of attacks on Iranian nuclear experts and facilities inside Iran over the years. Five years ago, Israel unveiled a vast collection of documents about Iran’s nuclear program that it said the Mossad had stolen from a warehouse in Iran.

On Thursday, Israel released footage of a man it identified as the head of the Iranian cell, Yusef Shahabazi Abbasalilu, saying on camera that he received his orders from Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps.

He further says he scoped out the target and took photos of the target’s home in Cyprus but fled the Mediterranean island nation and returned to Iran after being alerted that police were looking for him.

It was not clear if the man spoke under duress.

“In the wake of the information that he gave to investigators, the cell was dismantled in an operation by the Cypriot security services,” the Mossad statement said.

The claim, and the identity of the man in the video, could not be independently verified. Cypriot authorities would not comment when repeatedly queried by The Associated Press, saying only that “they don’t discuss matters of national security.”

Israel has long claimed that Iran is plotting to attack Israeli targets around the world and urged citizens to be careful when traveling abroad.

An Azeri man is on trial in Cyprus, a close Israeli ally, on suspicion that he planned to carry out the contract killings of Israelis living in Cyprus.