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Benny Gantz, Netanyahu rival, denies hacked cellphone contains blackmail fodder

Benny Gantz, an Israeli politician seeking to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denied Friday he risks being blackmailed as a result of having his cellphone hacked ahead of next month’s election, calling it “petty, petty gossip” meant to distract from bigger issues.

“There is a much more severe problem here,” Mr. Gantz told reporters gathered at the Gaza Strip border, where he begrudgingly answered questions about his hacked phone while raising concerns about rockets launched at Israel from Palestinian territory a day earlier.

“I want to plead with you: Somebody is making a spin here. It’s making [a] big problem [out of] something that doesn’t exist,” Mr. Gantz said, as translated by i24, a Tel Aviv-based television channel.

Regional outlets reported Thursday that Mr. Gantz, a former top Israeli military official and current chairman of the Kahol Lavan political alliance, was notified by Israeli security officials weeks earlier that his phone had been breached by Iranian hackers, potentially putting compromising information in hands of Tehran and other adversaries.

“I’m not under threat of extortion,” Mr. Gantz insisted Friday, Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported. “I went into politics in order to serve the state of Israel. I know very well that I’m paying high prices. I know that I’ll pay even higher prices. I know that I’m dealing here with liars — people in the lowest place.”

Mr. Gantz, 59, is challenging Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister since 2009, in a general election scheduled for April 9.

Reports concerning his cellphone emerged the same day two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Tel Aviv — a first since the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict ended nearly five years earlier.

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