Catherine Shakdam, who was recently accused by some in Iran of infiltrating the office of Supreme Leader as an Israeli agent has denied all such allegations.
In a nearly hour-long interview with Iran International television, the French-British journalist said she had “no direct line” to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office or any relationship, “professional or otherwise”, with any of its officials.
She also told Iran International that she wished she had not written the article in The Times of Israel, which fueled allegations of infiltration against her.
The revelation of her article led to a scandal in Iran, with some military, political and religious figures being accused of having ties to “an infiltrator”. There were even accusations that government officials slept with Shakdam and leaked sensitive information.
Khamenei’s website, to which Shakdam contributed 18 articles between 2015 and 2017, has denied any relations with her and has deleted her contributions. Shakdam told Iran International that an editor from Khamenei’s office contacted her by phone to ask her to contribute articles and analyses but insisted that contact with the said person and others was made only through emails thereafter.
However, on January 16 2020, soon after Iran fired missiles at Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq hosting US forces, in retaliation for the killing of IRGC Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, Shakdam published an article in Citizen Truth about the attack in which she claimed she had been given exclusive early access to an official statement issued by Khamenei’s office. She said that according to her exclusive information over a hundred US soldiers had been killed in the attack.
Catherine Shakdam with hijab in Iran. Undated
When asked by Iran International who provided her with the document, she said that the individual was from “within Khamenei’s office” and had volunteered the information because they wanted it to be published, but she refused to identity her source for safety reasons.
Asked why her articles were removed from Khamenei.ir website, she said as an antisemitic regime that advocates annihilation of Jews, Iranians did not want the writing of a Jew on the Supreme Leader’s website.
“It was an embarrassment for them,” she said adding that she did not not know if they were aware of her Jewish ancestry when she wrote for Iranian media. “When I reclaimed my history, they had an issue with me … Of course, it’s anti-Semitism … I’m just shocked at the level of hatred for someone based on their ethnicity.”
But some hardliner Iranian media, such as the flagship Kayhan newspaper, have defended her and said she was no spy. “Maybe they’re interested in the truth, maybe they’re not interested in misinformation and peddling lies,” Shakdam said about Kayhan defending her.
Shakdam wrote numerous articles and gave many interviews to Iranian state media over the years in which she defended the Islamic Republic’s official propaganda, and now insists she was not lying at the time.
“In my mind Iran was being mis-portrayed in the media and I felt the need to set the record straight. Now I do believe that I was being used by the regime and they used my naivety and probably lack of understanding geopolitics at the time, to their own end, but it doesn’t mean that I was lying.” She claimed she fell for such propaganda because she did not agree with policies of Saudi Arabia, not just in Yemen but in the region, and felt that Iran needed to be defended.
“Because I have been to Iran and met with Iranians and seen it for myself what the regime has done to Iran and how it functions in opposition to the values that it claims to protect … I realize that there was a dichotomy, a great hypocrisy, so I decided to distance myself from the regime,” she said.
Shakdam said she could not stand by a regime that called out “for genocide of an entire people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity”, not just Israel but all Jews, and destabilized other countries. “It’s not a criticism against the Iranian people, it’s criticism against a political system.”