Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Monday that an NGO campaigning against abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories committed "treason" by asking discharged soldiers to reveal classified information.
"What was recently revealed in a report broadcast on Channel Two is that they asked soldiers questions which were unrelated to morality and the character of their activity," his office quoted him as saying in Hebrew.
He said that in collecting testimony on their military service the ex-soldiers were quizzed on "what are in effect operational secrets."
"If this material is distributed externally it is treason," he said. "Also if they only keep it to themselves, who guards this material?"
"Why do they need to know what equipment we use in the air and on land...what our operational methods are?"
The NGO, Breaking the Silence, provides a platform for military veterans to describe what they say are disturbing aspects of their service in the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip and in operations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israeli TV station Channel Two aired a report Thursday that it said showed the activists collecting testimony from ex-soldiers and asking them about military equipment and operational methods.
The next day Yaalon ordered the army to investigate alleged security breaches.
Yuli Novak, president of Breaking the Silence, has denied any improper behaviour by her group, saying that in order to verify soldiers' accounts researchers must ask questions about dates, locations and the identity of units allegedly involved.
"I can tell you unequivocally that Breaking the Silence does not collect classified material," she said Friday on Israeli public radio.
"There is an attempt to frighten and silence anyone who criticises the government," she said, adding that all data made public by Breaking the Silence is approved by the Israeli military censor for publication.
Haaretz newspaper claimed that the Channel Two footage "was based on hidden camera footage recorded by the right-wing 'Ad Kan' group, which plants activists in leftist organisations to collect incriminating information."
In a January sting operation, Ad Kan secretly filmed an anti-settlement activist saying that he informed Palestinian authorities about clandestine sales of land to Israelis, an offence which carries a theoretical death penalty under Palestinian law but has never been applied by its courts.
Last month five NGOs, including Breaking the Silence, jointly condemned attempts to depict their leaders as foreign agents, saying that such claims had led to harassment and even death threats.