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Ya'alon warns: Iran operating 'sleeper cells' in Europe

In Cyprus, Defense Minister warns that Iran is building an international terror network and plans attacks on the United States and Europe.

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Ben Ariel,

Ya'alon and Cypriot counterpart
Ya'alon and Cypriot counterpart
Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Wednesday warned that Iran is building an international terror network that includes "sleeper cells" planning to strike on command in places such as Europe and the United States.

Those “sleeper cells” are stockpiling arms, intelligence and operatives, said Ya'alon. He made the comments during a visit to Cyprus and was quoted by The Associated Press (AP).

Ya'alon said Iran aims to destabilize the Middle East and other parts of the world and is training, funding and arming "emissaries" to spread a revolution.

He said Tehran is the anchor of a "dangerous axis" that includes Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Sanaa and other cities in the region.

"The Iranian regime through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps is building a complex terror infrastructure including sleeping cells that are stockpiling arms, intelligence and operatives and are ready to act on order including in Europe and America," he was quoted as having said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart.

He did not, however, offer any direct evidence of such sleeper cells existing in the U.S. or Europe, but he referred indirectly to the case of a Hezbollah member who was jailed in Cyprus last year following the seizure of nine tons of a chemical compound that can be converted into an explosive.

A Cypriot court sentenced Lebanese Canadian Hussein Massam Abdallah to six years in prison after prosecutors said he admitted that Hezbollah aimed to mount terrorist attacks against Israeli interests in Cyprus.

In 2013, a Cyprus court sentenced a self-confessed member of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah to four years in prison after he was convicted of involvement in a plot to attack Israeli interests on the island.

Ya'alon said on Wednesday that Cypriot authorities had "defeated attempts by Hezbollah and Iran to establish a terror infrastructure" on the island that aimed to expand "throughout Europe." 

Yaalon's trip to Cyprus was the first official visit by an Israeli defense minister to the east Mediterranean island, though the two countries have enjoyed closer relations in recent years.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Cyprus last July and, like Ya'alon, warned at the time that Iran poses a formidable threat to Europe with its terrorist proxy Hezbollah.

Last month, Israel, Cyprus and Greece formed an alliance focused on plans to build a gas pipeline to Europe.