An Israeli citizen was arrested last Saturday by Egyptian security forces in the Sinai border town of Taba and is currently being investigated by security forces on charges of espionage.
So far, there are three conflicting stories as to the identity of the man.
According to the state-run news agency MENA, the man was identified as an Israeli army officer and was detained after being caught sneaking through the border. The man was identified as being a resident of Tel Aviv and of Russian origin, collecting information about the Sinai region from drivers passing through the border.
Israeli citizens over 18 years old are required to serve in the Israeli military; three years for men and two for women. However, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Paul Hirschson said the suspected individual was not an active member of the army.
The ministry’s Arabic media spokesperson, Lior Bendor, confirmed an Israeli citizen was arrested but refused to provide the name of the accused. The Jerusalem Post identified the man as Andrei Pshenichnikov who, according to an interview Israeli Army Radio with his mother, had obtained a visa to visit friends from France in Cairo.
“At this point we know there was an Israeli, arrested or detained, that crossed into Egypt and is being held under one legal status or another,” Hirschson said. “The Egyptian authorities have not informed us yet of whom this person is, although everyone has assumed his identity.”
Despite not having formal confirmation of the detained Israeli, the government has assumed it is Pshenichnikov who they identified as having political views “which are not particularly pro-Israeli at this time.”
Another rumour circulating Israeli media is that the detained is a known pro-Palestinian activist that had crossed into Egypt with the intention of crossing into the Gaza Strip, as Israelis are not permitted to cross directly into Gaza from Israel for security reasons.
Pshenichnikov’s mother said he attempted to cross at the Eilat border crossing but was stopped by Israeli police at the border. Under the pretence of an illegal border crossing, his mother claimed, he was detained for several days by the Israeli authorities that demanded he sign an undertaking not to go to Cairo.
He was eventually released after refusing to sign the undertaking and had both Russian and Israeli passports seized. His mother alleged that later on the same day he was arrested at the Taba border crossing by Egyptian authorities.
“Every Israeli citizen in the world is entitled to support from the foreign ministry or consular services and such,” Hirschon said, adding that at the same time it was not Israeli policy to interfere in the domestic affairs of a country and it was still too early for the government to act in any way.
“Of course we are concerned for the welfare and wellbeing of our citizens everywhere, but on a specific level, it is too early and we must be patient,” Hirschon said.
The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed a man was arrested but refused to provide any more details