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Timeline | The Decade-Long Covert War Against Iran

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

15 Jan 2012 05:01Comments
8lsugnffvejkquj0rdmo.jpg[ comment ] The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Behdast, 32, a chemical engineer involved in Iran's nuclear program, in Tehran on Wednesday, is the latest manifestation that not only is the covert war against Iran well under way, but that it is in fact no longer so covert.

The covert war against Iran is at least 11 years old:

In July 2001, Colonel Ali Mahmoudi Mimand, known as a founder of Iran's missile program, was found dead in his office, reportedly with a bullet in his head.

One facet of the war has involved wooing Iran's nuclear scientists to defect to the West. In May 2009, Shahram Amiri, a junior scientist who was supposedly involved in Iran's nuclear program, disappeared during a trip to Saudi Arabia. He eventually emerged in the United States, but after several seemingly contradictory videos of him were posted on YouTube, he became an embarrassment to the Obama administration and was allowed to return to Iran.

Brigadier General Ali Rea Asgari, who was an adviser to the deputy defense minister in the Khatami administration, disappeared on February 7, 2007, in Istanbul. Iran's position is that Asgari was abducted, while others believe that he defected to the West, but was eventually taken to Israel, where he may still be incarcerated.

In April 2006, there was an explosion in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, damaging some centrifuges there. The cause turned out later to be faulty electrical equipment that Iran had imported. Another facet of the covert war has been selling equipment to Iran that is meant to malfunction and inflict damage.

On January 15, 2007, Dr. Ardeshir Hassanpour, a world authority on electromagnetism, and a prominent and award-winning figure in Iran's nuclear program, was murdered. Stratfor, the private security and intelligence analysis firm, released a report asserting that Israel's Mossad was responsible.

In February 2007, the Telegraph of London reported that the United States

is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear program. In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions. The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime. In the past year there has been a wave of unrest in ethnic minority border areas of Iran, with bombing and assassination campaigns against soldiers and government officials.

Meanwhile, Asia Times reported that the United States had military units operating inside Iran, and that

Iran is fast joining ranks with India and Afghanistan as a victim of trans-border violence perpetrated by irredentist elements crossing over from Pakistan. Tehran, too, will probably face an existential dilemma as to whether or not such acts of terrorism are taking place with the knowledge of [former Pakistan President Pervbez] Musharraf and, more importantly, whether or not Musharraf is capable of doing anything about the situation.

Those two reports were corroborated in June 2008 by Seymour Hersh, who reported that the Bush administration was spending $400 million to carry out a covert war inside Iran, including supporting the minority Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan, the Baluchi groups such as Jundallah, and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program. According to Hersh,

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of "high-value targets" in the President's war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new [Presidential] Finding [the secret order to authorize the operations], and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

In late 2010, Iran's Natanz nuclear facilities were attacked by the American-Israeli designed computer worm Stuxnet, believed to be the most sophisticated cyber weapon ever deployed. The attack destroyed at least 1,000 centrifuges at Natanz. The Telegraph reported that Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, confirmed his country's role in the Stuxnet attack.

Then came the assassination of Dr. Majid Shahriari, a prominent contributor to Iran's nuclear program. He was the one who made the necessary calculations that enabled Iran to enrich uranium to 19.75 percent for the Tehran Research Reactor, which provides nuclear isotopes for 850,000 patients annually and is rapidly running out of fuel. On November 29, 2010, he was killed and his wife wounded when a magnetic bomb attached to his car by two unknown motorcycle-riding assailants exploded. On the same day, a similar attempt was made to assassinate Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, another prominent nuclear scientist, in Tehran, but he survived. Abbasi Davani is currently the president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

On December 10, 2010, there was a huge explosion at Imam Ali military base in the southwestern province of Lorestan that killed and injured up to 40 people. The base is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It was reported that a fire had started that had spread to the ammunition warehouse within the base, but there were widespread rumors that a fire was not, in fact, the cause.

On July 24, 2011, Dariush Rezaeinejad, 35, an electrical engineer and a Ph.D. candidate, was killed in Tehran. He had been involved in designing high voltage triggers that have many civilian applications, as well as use in nuclear weapons. He had published his work in open-source scientific journals and, thus, it is highly unlikely that he was involved in the nuclear program. As Der Spiegel put it, "There is little doubt in the shadowy world of intelligence agencies that Israel is behind the assassination."

Little noticed is the fact that, on the same day that Rezaeinejad was murdered, a physics professor, identified only as "Dr. Boronzi, a researcher with the Rouyan Institute," was also assassinated in Tehran.

On November 12, 2011, there was another huge explosion at a Revolutionary Guard missile base near Tehran, which killed 37 people, including Major General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a pioneer of Iranian missile development. Though it is not clear what caused the explosion, Time reported that a Western intelligence source said Israel was behind the attack.

On November 28, 2011, the sound of a massive blast was heard throughout the city of Isfahan, the site of a major uranium conversion facility. The blast was reportedly so strong that people, terrified, rushed to the streets. Iran first confirmed the report, but then retracted it. The Times of London flatly claimed that Isfahan's primary nuclear site was "hit by a huge explosion." Time reported on comments made by Israeli military figures hinting that Israel was responsible for the Isfahan event, with the apparent assumption that a nuclear facility was the target:

"Not every explosion over there should be tied to reconnaissance and stories from the movies," Dan Meridor, Israel's minister for intelligence and atomic matters, told Israeli Army Radio. Saying, "it isn't right to expand on this topic," Meridor nonetheless went on to acknowledge that espionage has set back Iran's nuclear program. "There are countries that impose economic sanctions and there are countries who act in other ways," Meridor said.

A former director of Israel's National Security Council, retired Major General Giora Eiland, told the station the Isfahan blast was no accident. "There aren't many coincidences," he said, "and when there are so many events there is probably some sort of guiding hand, though perhaps it's the hand of God."

In addition to the above, Professor Masoud Ali-Mohammad of the University of Tehran was assassinated on January 12, 2010. Though there is considerable evidence that suggests he was murdered by the security forces, the possibility that Israel was behind the murder cannot be ruled out.

There are other aspects of the covert war that have not attracted as much public attention as they should, yet have been every bit as deadly. In an October 2009 article, I described how the United States and its allies helped the terrorist group Jundallah, which operates in Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan on the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mark Perry of Foreign Policy recently described how Israeli agents, posing as CIA operatives, recruited Sunni extremists to carry out terrorist operations inside Iran. Here is what he reports:

Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives. [...]

The [CIA] memos also detail...field reports saying that Israel's recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel's ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.... They were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad's efforts.

It's amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with, the intelligence officer said. Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn't give a damn what we thought.

WikiLeaks had already published documents that pointed to Israeli efforts of this sort.

And it is quite possible that both Israel and the United States have tried in the past to use fighters of the Party of Free Life for Kurdistan, known as PJAK and listed by the State Department as a terrorist group, to carry out terrorist operations inside Iran.

And, of course, spying on the IRI with airborne drones has continued unabated. One such drone was recently forced down inside Iran, which the IRI celebrated as a victory.

A longer version of this article appears here. This timeline is reproduced in French by Le Monde here. All opinions expressed are the author's own.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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