TEHRAN, Iran (AA) – An ultra-orthodox Israeli rabbi’s surprise visit to Iran has stirred up a hornet’s nest, amid questions about his smooth entry and hassle-free movement in the country.
Jacob Yisrael Herzog, an Israeli citizen who lives in Jerusalem, recently traveled to Iran and toured prominent religious sites across the country.
Herzog widely documented his maiden trip to Iran, posting pictures on social media, which got tongues wagging inside and outside the country.
Israeli citizens have remained barred from travelling to Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution that caused breakdown in diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The Israeli rabbi’s visit came amidst heightened tensions between Tehran and Tel Aviv fueled by a series of sabotage attacks at key Iranian nuclear sites in recent years, which Iran blamed on Israel.
Herzog, a dual national holding Israeli and American passports, according to reliable sources, used his American passport in procuring Iran’s travel visa.
He had previously used the same method in travelling to Saudi Arabia, where he renders services to Jewish expats, according to reports.
His Twitter page, which introduces him as “’Chief Rabbi of Saudi Arabia” and “promoter of interfaith dialogue”, is filled with pictures from his trips to the kingdom.
His visit to Iran, however, has raised eyebrows.
Homayoun Samahih, a representative of Iranian Jews in the parliament, feigned ignorance about the rabbi’s visit to Iran. The lawmaker told local media that he had no information about who invited the Israeli rabbi.
Pictures shared on his social media pages show Herzog visiting the Yusuf Abad synagogue in central Tehran, the Muslim shrine of Imamzadeh Saleh in north Tehran, a Jewish hospital in Tehran, and the tomb of Esther and Mordecai in Hamadan city in western Iran.
On social media, people shared Herzog’s pictures with captions expressing surprise over his visit, and asking how he was able to get the visa when Israeli citizens are barred from entering Iran.
A social media user said the rabbi’s hassle-free visit to Iran and free movement within the country was “not a mistake” but a “scandal”, slamming the authorities.
Another user asked “on whose invitation did he come to Iran?” calling his presence in the country “unjustifiable”.
A leading conservative Iranian daily, Keyhan, said the visiting rabbi could have been an Israeli spy, seeking explanation about his visit from authorities.
No senior government official has so far commented on the matter.