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Netanyahu rival Gantz says leak of Iran hacking story 'raises questions'

As election looms, Israel's Channel 12 reports that Iran hacked the phone of former general
Israel's 'Blue and White' party leaders Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Moshe Yaalon, and Gabi Ashkenazi play backgammon in Sderot on the campaign trail (AFP)

Israel's main opposition party has said the timing of a news report about its leader Benny Gantz's phone being hacked by Iran "raises many questions".

Israel's Channel 12 reported on Thursday that Israeli intelligence suspected Iran of hacking the mobile phone of former general Gantz, the frontrunner in Israel's 9 April elections and main rival of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the report, Israel's Shin Bet believes that Iranian state intelligence accessed the ex-general's personal information and correspondence, with the Israeli security agency supposedly telling Gantz about their suspicions five weeks ago.  

The report said that Shin Bet had warned Gantz that if he won the election, his and Israel's security could be endangered, but was told that he could "proceed according to his own judgement". 

Shin Bet security service declined to comment to Reuters.

Gantz's centrist Blue and White party, which has outpaced Netanyahu's conservative Likud in pre-election polls, played down any prospect of a national security breach and suggested the story had been deliberately leaked.

"It should be emphasised that the incident in question happened some four years after Gantz finished his term as (military) chief of staff and the current timing of its publication raises many questions," Blue and White said in a statement.

A Likud spokesman responded: "We are not involved in this."

Gantz's party has been leading in many polls in recent weeks, out-stripping Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, but a poll on Friday suggested his support was waning.

Arch-enemies Israel and Iran have long been locked in a shadow war. "Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis," Netanyahu told a cyber-security conference in January.

'Israel is in a fairly good condition in terms of its cyber security, but not in the best place in which it could be'

- Yigal Unna, National Cyber Directorate

Netanyahu, who appointed Gantz to his term as top general between 2011 and 2015, has cast his now election rival as a "weak leftist".

Gantz, whose party leadership includes two other former chiefs of staff, has not significantly parted with the prime minister's policies regarding Iran and the Palestinians.

Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, which sabotaged components of Iran's nuclear programme.

Israel's National Cyber Directorate warned last October that election results could be impacted by cyber-attacks.

“They do not shut down a country, but they impact its ability to function: disrupting electricity, banks, finances and election results,” said Yigal Unna, speaking at a conference at the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic Centre of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon.

"Israel is in a fairly good condition in terms of its cyber security, but not in the best place in which it could be."