Israel behind mysterious attacks on Iranian oil tankers, report claims

Iran oil tanker

THE ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE SERVICES are behind a series of mysterious attacks that have damaged Iranian oil tankers in the past 24 months, according to a new report that cites sources in the international shipping industry. The report, which appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal, cites a number of “shipping professionals” and “regional officials”, but does not name them.

The paper claims that the Israeli government decided to target the Iranian oil tankers after it concluded that Tehran uses the proceeds from oil sales to fund groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Most of the damaged ships were attempting to deliver oil to Syria in violation of a host of international sanctions against Iran, which are led by the United States. Washington appears to be quietly supporting the Israeli attacks on Iranian ships, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The article cites an anonymous shipping industry professionals as claiming that at least three Iranian oil tankers sustained serious damage following Israeli attacks in 2019, while at least six more Iranian ships were struck by Israel in 2020. All nine ships were transporting oil. There is no information about alleged attacks on Iranian oil tankers in 2021, with the exception of one Iranian vessel that was targeted by a group of divers who allegedly planted a limpet mine on its keel in February of this year.

None of the Iranian ships that were allegedly attacked by Israel sunk as a result, said The Wall Street Journal. However, all sustained significant damage and were forced to return to Iranian ports. As a result, Iran’s ability to deliver oil to Syria has been severely disrupted in the past two years, said the paper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 March 2021 | Permalink

Iran spies on dissidents via web server based in Holland, registered in Cyprus

Computer hackingA WEB SERVER BASED in Holland and owned by a company registered in Cyprus is being used by the Iranian government to spy on its critics abroad, according to Dutch public radio. The information about Iranian espionage was revealed on Thursday by NPO Radio 1, one of Holland’s public radio stations, with the help of Romanian cybersecurity firm BitDefender.

The discovery was reportedly made after an Iranian dissident based in Holland was sent an infected file by a user of the popular instant messaging application Telegram. Instead of opening the file, the recipient contacted cybersecurity experts, who identified it as a type of infected software that is known to have been used in the past by the Iranian state. Once it infects a computer, the software takes screenshots and uses the machine’s built-in microphone to make surreptitious recordings.

According to BitDefender’s cybersecurity experts, the server is being used for “command and control” functions in order to facilitate remote control of infected computers and phones. These functions include stealing data, as well as collecting screen shots and audio recordings. The server had been previously used to penetrate computers in Holland, Sweden, Germany, and several other countries, including India.

Cybersecurity experts from BitDefender found that the infected file was delivered to its target via a web server facility based in Haarlem, a city located 20 miles west of Amsterdam. The cybersecurity company said the server is registered to a company that belongs to a Romanian service provider. The company is registered in Cyprus and provides services to a number of companies, including in this case an American company. The latter reportedly stopped using the service provider once it was told of the Iranian connection, according to reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 February 2021 | Permalink

Iranian spymaster on trial in Belgium had contacts all over Europe, evidence shows

National Council of Resistance of IranAN IRANIAN DIPLOMAT, WHO in reality was the head of Iran’s European spy network, had contacts all over Europe, which are now being investigated by Western intelligence agencies, according to reports. Four Iranians are currently on trial in Holland Belgium, accused of plotting to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) —an umbrella group of Iranian expatriates who are opposed to the government in Tehran. Participants at the high-profile conference, which took place in June 2018 in a Paris, included over 30 senior United States officials. Among them was the then-US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who addressed the meeting. Stephen Harper, Canada’s former prime minister, also spoke at the conference.

According to Belgian authorities, the four members of the Iranian sleeper cell were planning to bomb the NCRI conference on instructions by the Iranian government. The leader of the cell was reportedly Assadollah Assadi, who was arrested in Germany on July 1, 2018. Prosecutors claim that Assadi was stationed under official cover at the Iranian embassy in Vienna. In reality, however, he was allegedly the Europe bureau chief for the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. Prosecutors claim that Assadi traveled to Luxembourg, where he met two Belgium-based members of the cell, Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami.

During their meeting at a Pizza Hut restaurant, Assadi reportedly gave Saadouni and Naami a bag with 500g of explosives, a USB stick with instructions on how to build a bomb, a new cell phone, and £16,000 in cash. The two spy cell operatives then built the bomb, placed it in a toiletry bag and handed it over to the fourth alleged member of the spy cell, Mehrdad Arefani, who was tasked with placing it inside the NCRI conference hall. However, German and Belgian security services foiled the plot, allegedly after a tip from Israeli intelligence.

Now a new report claims that Western spy agencies are combing through “a green notebook” found in the car that Assadi was driving when he was arrested in Germany. The notebook allegedly contains “289 places across 11 European countries”, where Assadi is thought to have met with Iranian spies operating in Europe. According to the report, the locations recorded in Assadi’s notebook include parks, hiking trails, tourist sites, restaurants, hotels and retail stores. They are located in countries like Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Luxembourg.

Assadi faces 20 years in prison, if convicted. The other three Iranians face between 10 and 15 years in prison. A judge in the Belgian city of Antwerp is expected to deliver the court’s verdict and impose sentence on the Iranians on Thursday of this week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 1 February 2021 | Permalink

Iran state media claims Britain and Germany helped US kill Soleimani

Qasem SoleimaniIRANIAN STATE MEDIA CLAIMED last week that several countries, including Britain and Germany, helped the United States assassinate its top paramilitary commander, Qassem Soleimani (pictured). The reports emerged on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Soleimani, who led Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He was killed by a drone strike on January 3, 2020, in Baghdad, Iraq. The same missile strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who commanded the Popular Mobilisation Committee, an umbrella organization composed of about 40 pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

Last week, Iran’s state-owned DEFA Press news agency reported that Tehran’s own investigation into the assassination operation showed that Washington was assisted by several countries, and even by some private security firms. According to the report, the Iranian government’s prosecutor, Ali Alqasimehr, stated that G4S, a security services contractor based in Britain, had “played a role” in Soleimani and al-Muhandis’ killing. He added that the US forces also made use of facilities at the Ramstein Air Base, located in southwestern Germany, to carry out the attack.

In addition to Britain and Germany, Iranian officials said that the governments of Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq assisted in the operation by providing logistical support and intelligence. According to DEFA Press, more countries are likely to be added to the Iranian government’s list of culprits, once Tehran concludes its investigation into the killing. Iranian officials have provided no evidence for such claims. It is also unclear whether Iran is considering launching revenge attacks against countries that allegedly assisted the US in its effort to kill the two paramilitary commanders.

Speaking during a commemoration event on Friday, Soleimani’s successor at the helm of the IRGC, Esmail Ghaani, said that Iran was “ready to avenge” Soleimani’s death. During the event, which was held at the University of Tehran, Ghaani warned that “someone who will retaliate for your crime […] may emerge from inside your own house”. He did not elaborate. Large commemorative gatherings to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassinations took place throughout Iran and Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups hold significant power.

Last January Iran issued a warning against Greece, saying that it would retaliate if the US used its military bases on Greek soil to attack the Islamic Republic. It was the first time that Iran had threatened to launch attacks against a member of the European Union in connection with the ongoing rise in tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2021 | Permalink

Iranian authorities said to have photos of assassins of leading nuclear scientist

Mohamed AhwazeREPORTS IN BRITAIN AND Israel claim that Iranian authorities have visually identified the assassins who were allegedly involved in the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist believed to have led Iran’s nuclear program. Fakhrizadeh was a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s elite paramilitary force. He was accused by the United States and Israel of leading the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, whose existence Tehran strongly denies.

Fakhrizadeh was killed on Friday during an armed assault that took place in the eastern outskirts of Tehran. He was attacked by assailants using automatic rifles, as he and his wife were traveling to Absard, a town located 60 miles east of the Iranian capital. His wife is also believed to have been killed in the attack, which lasted no more than 3 minutes and took place in broad daylight. Iranian leaders have accused Israel of the attack, and some believe the Israelis may have been provided with assistance from the United States. Israeli and American officials have not confirmed or denied that they were involved in Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Late on Sunday, Mohamed Ahwaze (a.k.a. Mohamed Majed), an Iranian-born reported based in Britain, tweeted photographs of four men, who are allegedly believed by the Iranian authorities to have been involved in Fakhrizadeh’s assassination. Ahwaze said that Iranian officials were busily distributing the photographs of the four men at various hotels and restaurants across Iran, and were asking for information about the alleged culprits. A few hours prior to Ahwaze’s tweet, a report from the state-owned FARS news agency in Iran claimed that the country’s Ministry of Intelligence had confirmed the identities of the assassins and that the details would soon be released to the public.

Earlier on Sunday, Ahwaze claimed on Twitter that over 60 intelligence operatives were involved in Fakhrizadeh’s killing, with the vast majority having a logistical role in the operation. He added that Iranian military units and IRGC forces had deployed along the Iranian border with Iraqi Kurdistan, believing that Fakhrizadeh’s assassins would try to exit Iranian territory by crossing the border on foot. Numerous Israeli media outlets are now reporting the information tweeted by Ahwaze on Sunday. However, the Israeli government has refused to comment on the claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 November 2020 | Permalink

More details emerge about alleged killing of al-Qaeda #2 in Iran by Israeli spies

Abu Mohammed al-Masri

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SAYS it has confirmed a claim made last week by The New York Times, according to which an Israeli assassination team killed al-Qaeda’s deputy leader in a daring operation inside Iran in August. The paper said on November 13 that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the operational name Abu Muhammad al-Masri, had been assassinated in Tehran on August 7. He was the deputy leader of al-Qaeda, and was wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for helping plan the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

On Sunday, the Associated Press said it was able to corroborate the The Times’ story with “four current and former US [intelligence] officials”, one of whom had “direct knowledge of the operation” and another, a former CIA officer, had been briefed about it. The news agency said the operation was carried out by Israel, acting on information given to it by the US. The Americans gave the Israelis information about al-Masri’s whereabouts in Iran, as well as the cover he was using to avoid detection.

Al-Masri was killed by a team of Israeli assassins while driving his car in a quiet street in the suburbs of Tehran, according to The Times. The assassins, who were riding on motorcycles, shot him with guns equipped with silencers. Al-Masri’s daughter, Maryam, who was riding with him in the car, was also killed. This was part of the plan, said the Associated Press. Al-Masri’s daughter was also the widow of Hamza bin Laden, the son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Hamza bin Laden was killed in 2019 by the US at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the Associated Press, US intelligence planners believed Maryam was “being groomed for a leadership role in al-Qaeda” and “was [already] involved in operational planning”.

Iranian media portrayed the incident as the murder of Habib Daoud, a Lebanese professor of history, who was gunned down in the Iranian capital along with his daughter by unknown suspects. In reality, said the Associate Press, the father and daughter were killed by the Kidon, (“tip of the spear” in Hebrew), an elite assassination unit within Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 November 2020 | Permalink

US spy agencies uncovered Iranian plot to kill American ambassador to South Africa

Lana MarksAn Iranian plot to kill the United States’ ambassador to South Africa was reportedly uncovered by American intelligence agencies, which believe Tehran is still seeking to avenge the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in January of this year. The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite paramilitary force, was killed by a US drone strike during a visit to the Iraqi capital Baghdad, sparking major tension between Washington and Tehran.

The news website Politico said on Sunday that the Iranian government had authorized a plan to kill Lana Marks (pictured), a South African-born American handbag designer, who is a longtime personal friend of US President Donald Trump. Marks, 66, assumed her post in October of this year. Citing “a US government official […] and another official who has seen the intelligence”, Politico said Marks had been “made aware of the threat”. The website added that the assassination plot against Marks involved operatives stationed at the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Pretoria.

According to the report, American spy agencies uncovered the plot several months ago. However, the confidence level regarding the intelligence was low. In recent weeks, the threat has become “more specific”, said Politico. This alleged plot aside, Politico said US intelligence agencies believe Tehran is weighing “several options” for avenging Soleimani’s killing, which include assassinating American diplomats abroad, as well as military commanders. On Monday, President Trump warned Iran on Twitter that “Any attack […], in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 September 2020 | Permalink

Intelligence insiders see Israeli alliance with Gulf States as ‘biggest change in decades’

Marc PolymeropoulosIntelligence insiders, including a former senior Central Intelligence Agency operations officer who spent decades in the Middle East, have described the establishment of official relations between Israel and some Gulf States as “the biggest change in the region in decades”.

The former CIA official, Marc Polymeropoulos, who worked closely with both Israel and the Palestinians in his 26-year career, told SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein and Jonathan Broder that secret intelligence links between Israel and some Arab countries are nothing new. However, “this [new] overt alliance is the biggest change in the region in decades”, said Polymeropoulos. He added that these intelligence links will only deepen now that official diplomatic relations have been established between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

In their analysis, Stein and Broder explain that these historic developments in the Middle East were initially forged “in secret political interactions” facilitated in the intelligence domain. These were led by the Mossad, which has been tasked by the Israeli leadership with creating a regional alliance against Iran. These efforts have intensified in recent years, especially after the administration of United States Donald Trump annulled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, which effectively signaled the resumption of Tehran’s nuclear program.

The end of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the deepening polarization between Sunni and Shia populations in the Middle East, were the context in which the Israeli outreach to Arab states took shape. This context essentially convinced Arab leaders that their populations are sufficiently concerned about Iran to “stomach an alliance with Israel” Polymeropoulos told SpyTalk.

What’s next in this process? Stein and Broder suggest that Mossad officials will continue to reach out to their Arab counterparts, in secret, in the coming months, as part of Israel’s effort to build an alliance against Iran. These efforts will be crucially amplified by the White House, which recently sent US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Sudan in order to pressure the country’s new government to recognize Israel. In the meantime, say Stein and Broder, Mossad will become a lot more active in the Emirates and Bahrain.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2020 | Permalink

Researchers find lost interview of MI6 officer who helped plan 1953 coup in Iran

Mohammad MossadeghBritish researchers have found a lost interview by a senior British intelligence officer who led the joint Anglo-American coup in Iran in 1953. The coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled the shah (king) of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a close Western ally. London was alarmed by Dr. Mossadegh’s decision to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later renamed to British Petroleum, or BP), which would deny Britain its lucrative stake in the Middle Eastern energy market. The British also viewed Dr. Mossadegh as being too close to the Soviet Union.

In 1952, when Iran severed diplomatic relations with Britain, London intensified its efforts to convince the United States that overthrowing the Iranian government was imperative to keep communism out of the region. Until then, British plans for a coup had been led by Norman Darbyshire, who headed the Persia station of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. With American help, Darbyshire continued his plotting from Cyprus, where he had relocated after having been expelled from Tehran by the Iranian government. He died in 1993. But in 1985 he gave an interview to Granada, a British production company, for a television documentary titled “End of Empire: Iran”. Because Darbyshire refused to speak in front of the camera, the producers of the documentary ended up not using his interview.

Recently, however, a team of researchers found the interview and the associated transcript while researching archival material for a new documentary on the overthrow of Mossadegh. The documentary, titled “Coup 53”, is scheduled for release this coming Wednesday, which marks the 67th anniversary of the coup. On Monday, the Security Archive at George Washington University released the typewritten transcript of Darbyshire’s interview. It describes how British intelligence worked systematically over several years to convince the United States to support the coup plans, and that British spies also found it difficult to secure the support of a reluctant Shah Pahlavi.

According to Darbyshire, MI6 and the CIA tried to bribe Iranian parliamentarians, offering them money in exchange for defecting from Dr. Mossadegh’s party, thus eliminating its parliamentary majority. When that effort failed, the spies approached the Iranian military and proposed plans for a coup. In his interview, the late MI6 spy claims that the coup cost the British government £700,000. “I know because I spent it”, he says. He also claims that much of that money was smuggled into Iran in cash, concealed inside “biscuit tins”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 August 2020 | Permalink

World can’t stop Iran from going nuclear, says former Mossad chief

Shabtai ShavitShabtai Shavit, one of the longest-serving directors of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, has said that Israel and the world cannot stop Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal, and should focus instead on establishing a deterrence mechanism. Shavit, who is now 80, rose through the ranks of the secretive intelligence agency and became its director in 1989, under Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin. He stepped down in 1996 and was succeeded by Danny Yatom.

Shavit has rarely spoken since his retirement from the intelligence world. But earlier this month he gave an interview to David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel Newspaper. The former spy chief’s book, Head of the Mossad, which was published in Hebrew in 2018, is expected to become available in English in September. Horovitz said he spoke to Shavit on June 2 of this year. The English-language translation of the interview was published by The Times of Israel on July 8.

In the interview, Shavit is sharply critical of Israel’s Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accuses of “not making decisions as a statesman”. Instead of being statesmanlike, says Shavit, Netanyahu makes decisions on matters such as Israel’s national security, or the coronavirus, with reference to his trial for alleged corruption. Under Netanyahu’s leadership, says Shavit, Israel’s standing “is among the worst in decades” internationally, with the exception of the United States. But that alliance is also in doubt, as President Donald Trump’s re-election in November —a prospect Shavit calls “a catastrophe for the United States and the world”— is doubtful.

On the issue of Iran, Shavit says he is obligated to speak, not as politician or other public figure, but as an intelligence officer, and thus consider the worst possible outcome for Israel. He argues that the worst-case scenario is that Tehran will refuse to abandon its ambition to develop a nuclear arsenal. If Iran decides to pursue that goal with full speed, it would be very difficult —even impossible— for Israel to avert such an eventuality. However, the Jewish state could potentially deter Iran from using a nuclear weapon, he argues.

For this to happen, Israel must recognize that Iran’s prime rationale “is not necessarily: ‘I want to have a bomb in order to drop it on Tel Aviv’”, says Shavit. On the contrary, its prime rationale is to elevate its “influence and status” in the region, primarily vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. Additionally, the regime in Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons in order to attain what Shavit calls “immunity” from a potential military attack by the United States.

Once Israel recognizes that Iran is not necessarily intent on destroying the Jewish state, it can stop trying to prevent Tehran from building nuclear weapons, and seek instead to deter it from using them. It can do so, says Shavit, by convincing the Iranians that “Iran will cease to exist” if it decides to make use of its nuclear arsenal. This policy of deterrence can be exercised no matter whether the clerics remain in charge in Tehran, or whether they are removed from power by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps —something that Shavit believes is possible.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 July 2020 | Permalink

Speculation grows that Israel may be behind spate of mystery blasts in Iran

Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facilityThere is growing speculation that Israel’s intelligence services may be behind a spate of blasts that have damaged military and civilian industrial sites in Iran in recent days. Citing a “Middle Eastern intelligence official”, The New York Times reported on Sunday that Israel was behind at least one of the blasts, which struck an Iranian nuclear complex.

The earliest known attack took place on May 9, when one of Iran’s busiest shipping hubs, the Shahid Rajaee Port, experienced a major cyber-attack that brought the port terminal “to an abrupt and inexplicable halt” and caused “massive backups on waterways and roads leading to the facility”. On June 26, a massive  blast destroyed a liquid fuel production facility for ballistic missiles in Khojir, a military complex located 20 miles southeast of Tehran. Four days later, on June 30, there was another explosion at a medical clinic in the Iranian capital, which killed 19 people.

On July 2, a major blast and subsequent fire were reported at the site of the Natanz nuclear facility, which is situated 150 miles south of Tehran. The attack is believed to have targeted a laboratory facility housing advanced centrifuge systems for enriching uranium. The BBC reported on Monday that a previously unknown group calling itself “The Homeland Cheetahs” claimed responsibility for the attack. The group sent BBC reporters information about the Natanz blast, including a video of the incident, before it was reported by Iranian media. In its statement, the group claimed to represent dissidents in the Iranian military, but some speculated that it could be a front for a foreign intelligence agency. On Sunday, The New York Times said the Natanz blast was orchestrated by the Israeli Mossad.

On July 3, a large fire broke out in Shiraz, Iran’s fifth largest city, while on the next day a fire engulfed the Zargan power plant in Ahwaz, following a large blast that was reportedly audible several miles away. Also on July 4, a large leak of chlorine gas occurred at the Karoun petrochemical plant in Bandar-e Mahshahr, in Iran’s Khuzestan Province. The leak caused 70 workers at the plant to be hospitalized.

In recent days, Iranian officials have claimed that the above incidents have been part of a sabotage campaign orchestrated by the Mossad, and have warned Israel of an impending retaliation. At a press conference in Jerusalem last Thursday, reporters asked the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether the country’s spy agencies were behind the attacks in Iran. Mr. Netanyahu responded by saying: “I don’t address such topics”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 July 2020 | Permalink

Iran’s coronavirus crisis exacerbates internal struggle between government and IRGC

IRGC IranA tense struggle is unfolding in Iran between the country’s civilian leaders and the parallel state of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The two entities are fighting about who will control the national response to COVID-19, according to sources. The outbreak of the pandemic in Iran followed closely that of China. Today the Iranian government claims the disease has infected no more than 115,000 people and killed fewer than 7,000. But these numbers seem low for a country of 82 million, and many observers dispute them.

The secrecy with which the government is treating the coronavirus epidemic may be masking an increasingly tense turf war between Iran’s civilian leaders, led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the IRGC. The latter is controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iran watchers describe the IRGC as a ‘praetorian guard’ whose members possess immense power and often wealth. Today the IRGC is a military force with a command structure that is distinct from that of Iran’s regular Armed Forces. It maintains its own army, navy and air force, has its own paramilitary and political protection units, and is in charge of Iran’s nuclear program.

The IRGC has seen its income fall drastically in the past two years, partly due to the continuing economic pressure that Iran is facing from strict sanctions imposed on it by the United States. The effects of the dramatic reduction in the value of Iran’s currency —down nearly 2/3 since 2018— have only been exacerbated by the monumental drop in global oil prices, which has practically decimated Tehran’s main source of foreign income.

According to sources, Khamenei and the IRGC forced the country’s civilian leadership to re-open the economy last month, fearing an absolute economic collapse. But this only resulted in a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases in nearly every region of the country. The IRGC is now reportedly trying to take control of Iran’s civilian healthcare system, in an effort to prevent the government from disclosing the extent of the re-emergence of the virus throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the IRGC’s prestige has suffered greatly this year, following the accidental shoot-down of a Ukrainian civilian airliner over Tehran in January, which killed nearly 180 people, most of them Iranians. Last week, the IRGC was believed to behind a missile test that went terribly wrong, resulting in the destruction of an Iranian navy ship that killed as many as 31 sailors. These fatal errors are for the time being giving President Rouhani the right to question the IRGC’s competence and resist giving away his administration’s control of the national response to COVID-19. The turf war continues to intensify, however, and it is difficult to forecast which side will prevail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2020 | Permalink

Bahrain accuses Iran of ‘biological aggression’ as COVID-19 stirs Gulf tensions

Tehran IranA senior Bahraini cabinet minister on Thursday accused the Iranian government of ‘biological aggression’ for spreading COVID-19 to several other countries in the Gulf, a claim that Iran promptly rejected. The allegation refers to Iran’s customary practice of not stamping the passport of visitors from some Sunni-majority nations.

The practice aims to shield visitors from perceived discrimination upon their return to their Sunni-majority home countries. Several Sunni Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, have either criminalized or openly discourage trips to Iran by their Shi’a citizens. The latter are often viewed as suspicious or disloyal by their own governments. However, many of them continue to travel regularly to Iran in order to visit some of Shi’a Islam’s most revered pilgrimage sites.

Thousands of Shi’a pilgrims from predominantly Sunni nations have been repatriated to their home countries following the outbreak of COVID-19, which is also known as coronavirus. Earlier this week, Bahrain announced that at least 77 of its citizens, who were recently repatriated from Iran on government-supplied airplanes, tested positive for the disease. However, many others returned home from Iran on their own and are hesitant to tell local authorities that they have traveled to Iran, fearing discrimination or —in some cases— imprisonment. Since the passports of these individuals are not stamped with Iranian entry visas, local authorities have no way of telling whether they have recently traveled to Iran.

On Thursday, Bahrain’s Minister of Interior, General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa, condemned Iran on Twitter for its “behavior, [which] has allowed the disease to travel abroad and put in danger our safety and health and that of others”. General al-Khalifa added that Iran’s behavior constituted “a form of biological aggression that is criminalized under international law”. But Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by rejecting the claim that the practice of not stamping passports was related to an intention by Tehran to spread the coronavirus to the Gulf region.

Bahrain’s accusation came less than a week after Saudi Arabia publicly chastised its citizens who have traveled to Iran and issued a reminder that traveling to Iran is considered a criminal act.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 March 2020 | Permalink

Google removes Iranian government’s COVID-19 app amidst claims of espionage

Iran Ministry of Health and Medical EducationAn Android application developed by the Iranian government to assist in coordinating the country’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic has been removed by Google amidst accusations that it may be used to track Iranian dissidents. The application, named AC19, was released several days ago by Iran’s Ministry of Health and Medical Education. Its release was announced through a text message sent by the Iranian government to every mobile telephone subscriber in the country. The text message urged citizens to download the application through a dedicated website or third-party app stores, including the Google Play Store. Millions have since done so.

The purpose of AC19 is to help coordinate the nationwide response to COVID-19, known as coronavirus, in a country that is experiencing one of the world’s most prolific outbreaks of the disease. App users can register using their unique phone number and determine whether their flu-like symptoms resemble those of COVID-19. The app’s developers argue that it can help keep people from flooding local hospitals throughout the country, which are already overwhelmed.

But some users have raised concerns that the app also requests access to the real-time geolocation data of users, which it then stores in remote databases. As technology news website ZDNet reports, some have accused the government in Tehran of using the AC19 app in order to track the movements of citizens. An expert consulted by ZDNet to examine the app’s technical details said that it did not appear to contain unusually intrusive features or functions.

However, the company used to develop the app, called Smart Land Strategy, has previously built apps that, according to ZDNet, were used by the Iranian intelligence services and were subsequently removed from the Google Play Store. Some Iranians claim that, given the connection between AC19 and Smart Land Strategy, it is possible that the new app may be used in the future by the Iranian government to spy on citizens, despite the fact that it may be presently useful in efforts to contain the COVID-19 epidemic.

The app continues to be available through Iranian government websites and app sites other than Google’s.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 March 2020 | Permalink

Denmark arrests three Iranian separatists for spying for Saudi Arabia

Finn Borch AndersenAuthorities in Denmark have announced the arrests of three Iranian Arab separatists, who are charged with carrying out espionage on behalf of the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia. The arrests were announced on Monday by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, known as PET.

According to the PET, the three Iranians are members of a group calling itself the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA). Known also as Al-Ahwaziya, the group was established in 1980. It calls for a separate state for ethnic Arabs who live the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, in Iran’s southwest.

PET director Finn Borch Andersen told reporters on Monday that the three Iranians were recruited in 2012 by the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), Saudi Arabia’s primary intelligence agency. They allegedly spied on pro-Iranian groups and individuals in Denmark and other countries northern Europe on behalf of the GID. They reported regularly to their handler, who was an undercover intelligence officer at the Saudi embassy in Copenhagen, according to the PET.

In October 2018, one of the three Iranian men was targeted for assassination by Iranian intelligence, but Danish authorities managed to prevent it with an elaborate security operation. A Norwegian man of Iranian background was arrested during the operation and remains in detention in Denmark. Throughout that time, the PET continued to monitor the three Iranian separatists, and proceeded to arrest them this week.

Late on Monday, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Saudi ambassador to Copenhagen in order to file an official complaint about Saudi espionage activities on Danish soil. According to the Danish media, the ambassador of Denmark to Saudi Arabia contacted the oil kingdom’s government to protest about the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 February 2020 | Permalink