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Report: Iranian Ex-Deputy Defense Minister, Missing 4 Years, in Israeli Jail

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

12 Dec 2010 20:5116 Comments
AlirezaAsgari.jpgAlireza Asgari case apparently tied to ongoing shadow war.

[ dispatch ] Over the past decade Israel has been waging a war against Iran's nuclear program. In addition to an intense propaganda campaign by AIPAC, its main lobby in the United States, that consists mainly of grand exaggerations, half-truths, half-baked half-truths, and even lies, the campaign has had one main focus: decapitating the program either by assassinating Iran's top nuclear scientists, or wooing them to defect and reveal information about the program.

In July 2001, Colonel Ali Mahmoudi Mimand, known as the father of Iran's missile program, was found dead in his office with a bullet in his head. No culprit was ever identified, but Israel was widely suspected to be behind the assassination.

Dr. Ardeshir Hassanpour, a leading, award-winning figure in Iran's nuclear program, was murdered on January 15, 2007. The relatively liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted a report by Stratfor.com (the website of Stratfor, a firm involved in analysis of military, political, and intelligence issues, known as "the private CIA") that he was killed by Israel's Mossad.

Most recently, this November 29, Professor Majid Shahriari, a prominent figure in Iran's nuclear program and a faculty member at Shahid Beheshti University's nuclear engineering department, was assassinated. On the same day, there was also an assassination attempt on Dr. Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, another central participant in Iran's nuclear program and Shahid Beheshti faculty member, as well as a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps since its inception in 1979. Abbasi was one of the first figures in Iran's nuclear program to be directly sanctioned, under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1747. Once again, Israel is widely believed to have been involved in the assassination of Shahriari and the failed attempt to kill Abbasi.

Another Israeli tactic has been the penetration of Iran's nuclear program via computer malware. It is now widely believed that the Stuxnet worm was deliberately planted in the Iranian nuclear facility computer networks. It acted similar to a multiple-warhead missile -- one copy attacked the computers at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, apparently causing extensive damage, to the point that the rate of production of low-enriched uranium there fell to almost zero (the virus may have done this by "ordering" the centrifuges to spin at very high speed, which crashes them); another copy attacked the computers that run the light-water nuclear reactor in Bushehr, again causing considerable damage and delaying its full operation by at least a few months.

Then there are the cases of defection, such as that of Shahram Amiri, a junior figure who was working at Malek-e Ashtar University, which is linked with Iran's military. He apparently defected to the United States in May 2009, but when it turned out that he did not have much information about Iran's nuclear program, the CIA lost interest in him. He also was unhappy with his treatment and finally returned to Iran.

The second case claimed by the Western press as a defection is that of Brigadier General Alireza Asgari. As a Revolutionary Guard officer stationed in Lebanon in the 1980s and early 1990s, he worked closely with the Lebanese Hezbollah. In the administration of President Mohammad Khatami, he served as deputy minister of defense. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 and appointed Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, another Guard commander, as the new defense minister, Asgari was pushed out and apparently retired.

In fall 2006, Asgari traveled to Syria and from there to Istanbul. According to his wife Ziba Ahmadi, he arrived there on December 7. He was supposed to stay in Ceylan (pronounced "Jeylan") Hotel and return to Tehran on December 10. He called her on December 9, but never returned. His wife contacted the hotel on December 11 and was told that he was not there.

There have been all sorts of speculations about his fate. Yoav Stern of Haaretz asserted on March 5, 2007, that Asgari "may have defected." Two days later, the Jerusalem Post claimed that he had been in Europe and was then taken to the United States. However, Niles Lathem and Oron Dan of the New York Post reported on the same date that U.S. officials denied that he had been transfer there. On March 8, 2007, Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post reported that Asgari was indeed in the United States and willingly cooperating with the CIA. The next day, Lathem reported that Iranian dissidents living in Europe and the United States had helped Asgari to defect. It was claimed, in particular, that Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former Guard officer in the Quds force who turned against the hardliners and now lives in Europe, had a hand in Asgari's defection.

These reports, however, were countered by others indicating that Asgari was in an Israeli prison. Some Arab diplomats have reportedly said to the media that he was kidnapped by the CIA and/or Mossad. On November 15, 2009, the Associated Press quoted the website Alef -- run by Ahmad Tavakkoli, a Majles deputy from Tehran and cousin of the Larijani brothers -- as saying that Iran believes that Asgari is in Israeli detention.

New information has now emerged. Richard Silverstein, who blogs on Middle Eastern issues, reports that he has received confirmation from a reliable source in Israel that Asgari is indeed incarcerated in Unit 15 of Ayalon prison. Silverstein had already reported on June 13,

Earlier today, Yediot Achronot published a story about a Mr. X imprisoned in an Israeli jail. The man was in solitary confinement. His jailers did not know who he was, did not share a word with him, no one came to visit him. No one seemed to know he was there. They didn't even know what crime he had committed or how he came to be in the prison. His prison cell was completely isolated from other prisoners and he couldn't communicate in any way with them.

As Silverstein now explains about the specific location where Asgari is reportedly being held, "This cell in Ayalon's Unit 15 is the same one specially built to hold Yigal Amir, assassin of Yitzhak Rabin. In other words, it is meant to isolate the prisoner from the outside world and the rest of the prison system."

The report still does not clarify the reason for Asgari's disappearance. It could be that he originally defected. The Sunday Times of London claimed that he had been spying for the West since 2003. But no supporting evidence of any sort has ever been presented. If he defected, then why is he in a prison in Israel? It could be that when Israel realized that he had information about the Hezbollah and, in particular, the eventual fate of Ron Arad, the Israeli pilot captured in Lebanon who was never heard from again, he was transferred from the United States or Europe. Or, it could be that he was actually kidnapped.

I personally find it hard to believe that Asgari planned to defect. If he had such a plan, why did he not take his family with him to Turkey? Why has he not called his family for four years? Why is his wife still looking for him, saying that she has never heard from him since December 9, 2006? In addition, it is well known that when Iranians who have held high-ranking government positions retire , they are forbidden from traveling abroad for many years. Given that Asgari was an active Guard officer for a long time and had access to a considerable amount of sensitive information, it is inconceivable that he was allowed to travel to Syria and Turkey, unless he was still working with the government on a secret mission. If so, if he were planning to defect, I find it difficult to believe that the Guard intelligence unit or the Ministry of Intelligence would not have noticed anything unusual about him.

Whether Asgari defected or was kidnapped, one thing is clear: He did not have any bombshell information about Iran's nuclear program. Since his disappearance in December 2006, no smoking gun has been discovered that indicates that there may have been a diversion from Iran's nuclear program to nonpeaceful purposes. Perhaps Asgari played a role in the conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate released in November 2007, less than a year after he disappeared, which declared that, if Iran had a nuclear weapon program, it abandoned it in 2003.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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16 Comments

I can't wait for the Israeli apologists to dismiss the entire article and start blaming the deaths on internal disputes.

Thank you Dr. Sahimi for this article.

B / December 12, 2010 9:20 PM

Interesting if true, but the claim that Asgari is in an Israeli prison comes from a single unnamed source.

The arguments presented by Dr. Sahimi against a defection scenario amount to (a) he left his family behind, and (b) the MOIS/IRGC knew nothing about it. I think we can dismiss the latter -- almost by definition, defections happen before the target country's security/intelligence apparatus get too suspicious; furthermore, if they did find out then Asgari may have "disappeared" at their hands instead. As to him leaving his family behind, again it would hardly be the first time that a defector has done this.

I certainly wouldn't put it past the Israelis to have kidnapped him, but once again if he had defected then he would have been given a new identity, thus making it easy for Iran to claim whatever they like in the absence of credible information.

Ian / December 12, 2010 9:24 PM

---"I can't wait for the Israeli apologists to dismiss the entire article and start blaming the deaths on internal disputes." - B

Well seems that we didn't even have to wait for Iran apologists :)

Y / December 12, 2010 10:58 PM

Interesting headline, empty article. Rumors, speculation, and reheated old stories. A pity. The statement that he had no bombshell information, for instance, is unsupported.

Felipe Pait / December 12, 2010 11:49 PM

Dr. Sahimi,

If Israel or any other country for that matter can take out targets of interest within the Iranian territory at will and with such great ease then should we not question the reliability of Iranian security forces?

This is not the first time and I am sure it will not be the last. What is Iran doing to protect its citizens? Such a relaxed atmosphere against foreign threat puts the question mark on the leadership of the Barbaric Republic.

Perhaps they want assassination and chaos to divert public's attention from the internal mess they are suffocating in.

Under the present circumstances fingers can be pointed in all directions since they are all guilty of crimes against Iranian humanity in the last 31 years.

Niloofar / December 13, 2010 1:16 AM

It is easy to surmise that if a government other than the Islamic Republic was at the helm in Iran, such terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage against Iranian nuclear program would not occur.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

During the dismal reign of the Shah, sabotaging progress in Iran was rather easy for the outside powers: they simply controlled every technology they ever brought to Iran. You can be sure that if the Bushehr nuclear power plant was completed by the Germans under the Shah, all key positions at the plant would be occupied by the Germans or other westerners. No transfer of real knolwedge or the know-how would take place.

Now that Iranians have taught themselves the know-how, the objective of the outside powers has shifted to eradicating those Iranians who have had the intellectual tenacity to put themselves in the position of affording their nation move forward.

However, the objective and the attitude of the outside powers toward Iran has remained the same; only, the tactics have changed.

These terrorist attacks, or other forms of sabotage against Iranian nuclear scientists would take place in one form or another under any Iranian political structure. Albeit, if a friendly regime like the Shah's was in Iran, such terrorist attacks could be carried out much more easier and with far more subtlety.

It is clear that it is the Iranian nation that is, and has been, under assault on all fronts (geographic, economic, scientific, historic, and even demographic) since at least the beginning of the twentieth century. Only the Islamic Republic has had the tenacity to put up a fight against the ongoing multifaceted and multilayered onlslaught against the Iranian nation.

Will the Iranian nation allow the outsiders to suffocate its progress like they have been able to do in the past? Can the harsh sanctions destroy the will of the Iranian nation yet one more time? Or can the future generations of Iranians count on this generation to get the job done by building the infrastructure needed to protect the nation and her human and natural resources for centuries to come?

Ekbatana / December 13, 2010 9:55 AM

Nilo,

Don't think this isn't taken seriously by the IRGC. VEVAK and NAJA.

Security measures are in effect and adaptive, yet are a constant source of complaint by seditious expats such as Muhammad here.

Pirouz / December 13, 2010 10:26 AM

Apparently this secret war between the intelligence services has been going on forever.I have heard this from the horse's mouth that some foreigners in Tehran's luxury hotels simply disappear without their respective countries laying any claims to them.most probably because of the forged documents which they carry(The Mossad operation in Dubai is a good example)

anonymous / December 13, 2010 5:53 PM

Y:

If I speak out against terrorism againt Iranians I am an apologist? Really? Is that the logic you are going to use? What if America nukes Iran, can I defend Iran then? Does this government have any rights whatsoever? I really thought this was as basic as it got but I guess I was wrong.

B / December 13, 2010 6:43 PM

Is this guy actually reporting as a journalist? I assume this is an opinion piece by an Iranian. He can't possibly be an actual journalist. All opinions and conjecture. Sorry, but I have no pity for Asgari: live by the sword, die by the sword.

Phaedrus / December 13, 2010 7:43 PM

Many thanks, Professor Sahimi, for the timely, dispassionate, and incisive article. It neatly ties together many loose ends.

Mahmoud Sadri / December 13, 2010 8:49 PM

"During the dismal reign of the Shah"?
I never experienced it, but I can tell you based on the input from people over the years, some of whom leftist or supporters of a democratic Republic; your statement is nothing short of a lie. A LIE. They had their share of problems, but in comparison to today's Iran? Give me a break.
Do you honestly think you are dealing with an army of the blinds?

Who were the terrorists of the time? The very Islamists that you route for. YOU and the likes of YOU. Some of whom are the present leaders of Iran. Trash like Rafsanjani and Khamenei.

Technology? What technology? Everything you put up in the air is at least 40 years old. Who are you trying to impress? Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck? You will not stand a chance in a direct confrontation.

You have destroyed the infrastructure of Iran. You cannot even refine gasoline without killing the Iranian people. Sending up a few planes load of water to purify the air speaks volumes of your technical knowhow. Take a look at the depressing state of Iranian auto industry, billions in debt.

The only times you barbarians make headlines is when you resort to your prehistoric ways of MURDERING, stoning people to death, chopping off their body parts or hanging people in public squares. “Dismal reign of the Shah Liar?”

What have you accomplished that is so great?
Another possible devastating war? The miserable standard of living of the Iranian people despite the past enormous oil revenues? Jobs? Justice? Freedom of any kind? Should I go on?

I a woman have a 'short' message for your fraudulent leader. Go to hell.

Niloofar / December 14, 2010 6:26 AM

@Niloofar,
"I never experienced it." You have lived a very sheltered life; one which is typical of the Iranian 'Generation Gucci.'

Iranian 'Generation Gucci,' are extremely fun to be around with, as long as you don't have the reigns of power - we can tolerate you.

Ekbatana / December 14, 2010 8:31 AM

@Niloofar,

"Technology? What technology?"

http://www.bigsoccer.com/forum/showthread.php?t=320589&page=14


Ekbatana / December 14, 2010 8:48 AM

Gee, I feel better knowing that Israel is actively messing with Irans nuclear program. Enter the family of crazy nations: North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran.

anonymous / December 14, 2010 9:45 PM

this is stateterrorism, when will the world sanction this nutty regime called israel? GO IRAN!

Jac / December 26, 2010 6:54 PM