(Associated Press)
burning flag

Concerns escalate as suspected Iranian meddling exacerbates tensions in Israel following a dubious funeral bouquet delivery to the family of hostage Liri Albag.

By Eitan Elhadez-Barak, TPS

Israeli concerns about Iranian disinformation efforts to divide society resurfaced after the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) said it believed Tehran was behind the delivery of a funeral bouquet to the family of hostage Liri Albag.

One expert on Iran said the incident was consistent with Tehran’s efforts to weaken Israel’s social fabric.

“May her memory be a blessing – Liri Albag. But everyone knows the state is more important,” said a note delivered with the floral wreath to the Albag family on Friday.

Making the note more painful is that the 19-year-old Albag is believed to be alive. She was abducted by Hamas on October 7 from the Nahal Oz military base.

The Shin Bet said on Sunday it believed Iran was responsible for sending the wreath.

‘Pressing on Hot Button Issues’

“The Iranians for years have had an interest in creating division within Israeli society,” Dr. Meir Javedanfar told TPS-IL. Javedanfar is a specialist on Iran who teaches at Reichman University in Herzliya.

“They probably used a foreign number with a stolen credit card and ordered it from an Israeli florist. The Israeli florist probably got a call from a normal sounding English-speaking person, or maybe even online from a European country with the message,” he said.

Javedanfar noted that the level of Hebrew used by Iranian intelligence has improved recently.

“It makes their disinformation campaigns more effective. This is something we’ve seen, especially after the start of the Prime Minister’s judicial reform program which led to divisions in Israeli society. The Iranians have been trying to deepen those [divisions]. It’s very probable that yes, after this war, they are continuing with their campaign to create divisions in Israel,” Javedanfar said.

Iranian agents used fake Israeli profiles on social media “to set one side against another, and press on hot button issues,” he explained. In January, the Shin Bet exposed Iran’s use of fake social media accounts to recruit Israeli citizens online for espionage.

Javedanfar said the campaign was probably being run by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, even though some of its activities overlap with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Intelligence.

And a Microsoft report released in February found that Iran’s online disinformation activities and cyberattacks on Israel have soared since October 7.

That report warned of the prospect of similar Iranian efforts to interfere in other countries — particularly in the US, which is in the middle of a presidential election campaign.

Asked about Iran targeting the US this way, Javedanfar said, “I’m sure the Iranians are doing it. But you can’t compare the Iranians to the Russians and Chinese.”

He added, “There are some people in Iran who say why do we need to retaliate against Israel after the recent attack [on the Iranian embassy in Damascus]? An attack would only help Israelis reunite. They see pictures like the driver in Tel Aviv who ran over the protesters. This only makes them happy, and they want to deepen it.”

Asked how Israel and the West should respond, Javedanfar suggested sanctions and even a counter-disinformation campaign.

“There’s not enough deterrence,” he said.