updated 11/22/2008 7:19:35 PM ET 2008-11-23T00:19:35

Iran has executed a man convicted of spying for Israel, a judiciary spokesman said Saturday.

Ali Reza Jamshidi told The Associated Press that Ali Ashtari was hanged Monday, fulfilling a death sentenced handed down June 30 by the Revolutionary Court, which handles security matters. It was the country's first known conviction for espionage linked to Israel in almost a decade.

Jamshidi confirmed state media reports that Ashtari was found guilty of relaying to Israeli intelligence officers sensitive information on military, defense and research centers with which the 45-year-old electronics salesmen worked.

Iranian officials have said the material that Ashtari allegedly passed to Israel included information on Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.

A top Iranian intelligence official said the announcement of Ashtari's hanging was part of an "intelligence battle" with the secret agencies of Iran's enemies, the official IRNA news agency said.

"We had specific intentions with announcing the execution of Ashtari ... we want to show that new intelligence battles with enemy's intelligence services have begun and that intelligence battles have become more serious," IRNA quoted the head of the Intelligence Ministry's Counterespionage Department as saying.

The news agency didn't identify the intelligence official by name, which is customary in Iran.

The semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted the same official as saying that Ashtari's body was handed over to his family Monday and later buried.

Israel's Foreign Ministry refused to comment. At the time of Ashtari's sentencing, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel had no knowledge of the case.

In video aired on Iranian state television Saturday, Ashtari is seen confessing to spying for Israel and expressing regret for his actions. The date of the recording was not given.

"I was perhaps afraid of going to the (Iranian) Ministry of Intelligence," Ashtari said in the video. "This fear made me choose the wrong path. All the directions that I chose ended in a deadlock."

"I want everyone to learn a lesson from my fate and not play with their lives," he said. "See my destiny and set it as an example for yourselves. And do not make the same mistakes that I made."

Accused of creating 'a link'
Jamshidi said Ashtari was arrested in 2007 on charges of cooperating with the Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad for three years. Prior to his trial, Iranian officials accused Ashtari of trying to "create a link" between Iranian experts and Israeli agents.

Iran and Israel have long been enemies. But Ashtari's case was the first time since 2000 that an Iranian court has convicted an Iranian citizen of spying for Israel.

A closed-door trial in 2000 convicted 10 Iranian Jews of spying for Israel and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from four to 13 years. All were released before serving their full sentences.

Ashtari's hanging comes amid speculation about whether Israel might attack Iran's nuclear facilities, which the Tehran regime is suspected of using to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies that, saying its program is for peaceful purposes.

Earlier this year, Israel Aerospace Industries unveiled its Eitam airplane, equipped with sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems. Israel also launched an advanced spy satellite in January able to track events even at night or in cloudy weather — all of which could be used to spy on Iran.

In 1981, an Israeli warplanes destroyed an unfinished nuclear reactor in Iraq. Israeli aircraft also hit a suspected nuclear facility in Syria in September 2007.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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