Mossad chief sees historic shift of alliances as Arab states side with Israel against Iran

Yossi CohenIn a rare public appearance, the director of the Mossad spy agency said that the Middle East is witnessing a historic shift of alliances as many Arab states are forming tacit pacts with Israel against Iran and its proxies. Yosef “Yossi” Cohen spoke on Monday morning at the Herzliya Conference, a security-themed event organized by the Interdisciplinary Center, a university in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv.

In his 40-minute speech Cohen said that the Mossad had identified the present time as “a rare opportunity —perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East— to reach a regional understanding that would lead to an inclusive regional peace agreement” between Israel and most of the Arab states. He justified his reasoning by claiming that many Arab states are siding with Israel to pursue “common interests [such as] the fight against rivals like Iran and jihadist terrorism”. This historic shift in alliances is happening as Israel is enjoying “close relations with the White House” and keeping open “channels of communication with the Kremlin”, said the spy chief. These factors “combine to create what might be a one-time window of opportunity” for Israel to form a strategic alliance with the majority of its Arab neighbors, said Cohen.

The Mossad chief went on to allege that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were behind the recent bombings of commercial oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. He told the conference that he could “say with certainty that Iran was behind these attacks” and that they were “approved by the Iranian leadership and carried out by the [IRGC]”. Cohen cited “the best sources of Israeli and Western intelligence” but did not provide specific evidence to support his allegation, which Iran denies. Later in his speech, Cohen said that the IRGC and Iranian intelligence agencies had carried out assassinations throughout Europe and had discussed further plans to attack Jewish and Israeli targets in Denmark, Azerbaijan and the North America. “And that is only the tip of the iceberg”, said Cohen, and went on to claim that the IRGC had set up a network of 300 agents in the African continent and was heavily present in Syria, mainly through its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

At the conclusion of his speech, the Mossad chief repeated prior warnings by Israeli officials that the Jewish state would never allow the development of an Iranian nuclear arsenal. “Mossad and the State of Israel have not signed the nuclear deal and will do all to ensure Iran will never possess a nuclear arsenal”, said Cohen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 July 2019 | Permalink

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Iran announces arrest of 16 oil ministry officials for spying for CIA

Iran Petroleum Oil MinistryIranian state media announced on Sunday the arrest of 16 officials in the country’s Ministry of Petroleum, allegedly for sabotaging Iranian energy policy. It is not known whether these arrests are in any way connected with Tehran’s announcement last week that it had dismantled “one of the most complicated” espionage operations by the United States Central Intelligence Agency in several countries. According to the state-owned Fars News Agency, the 16 officials were arrested over the weekend in synchronized pre-dawn raids. All of them had managerial positions in Iran’s oil industry —including in the areas of exploration, production and distribution of Iran’s oil and petrochemical products inside the country as well as abroad.

The report about the latest arrests cited Hossein Ali Haji Deligani, a senior legislator representing the most conservative political wing in the Iranian parliament. Deligani said that the ministry employees “operated under a woman”, whom he did not name. Working in concert, the employees had been “able to influence […] the oil ministry to put off important decisions” and to “make wrong decisions”. These decisions were “in line with the enemies’ goals and against Iran’s national interest”, and ultimately delivered “a blow to the country in the United States economic war against Iran”, said Deligani. He did not elaborate on the topic and did not discuss whether the arrests were linked to the dismantling of an alleged CIA cyber espionage operation, which Iran announced last week.

Sunday’s announcement by the Fars News Agency comes two days after the execution of Jalal Haji Zavar, an employee of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization, which operates under the Iranian a unit of the Ministry of Defense. Zavar was executed on Friday after a military court found him guilty of having committed espionage against Iran on behalf of the CIA. Media reports said that unspecified incriminating documents and “spying equipment” were found in Zavar’s home.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 June 2019 | Permalink

Israeli officials announce arrest of alleged deep-cover spy for Iran

Thaer Sha'afutIsraeli authorities announced on Thursday the arrest of a deep-cover intelligence operative who allegedly attempted to establish a base for Iranian intelligence in Israel and the West Bank, according to news reports from Israel. Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, said it arrested Thaer Sha’afut (pictured), a Jordanian national, on espionage charges. The arrest reportedly occurred in April, but was only announced this week. According to Shin Bet officials, Sha’afut was an accredited deep-cover intelligence operative for the Iranian spy services. He was allegedly was commissioned “to carry out missions that were meant to establish a network in Israel and the West Bank, which would be used for covert operations by the Iranians”.

Israeli officials said Sha’afut received instructions from his Iranian handlers to enter Israeli territory between July and August of 2018. After entering Israel, his goal was “to form business ties” in the West Bank and in Israel proper. He planned to do that, said the Shin Bet, by hiring Shiite Muslims to staff a new factory in Jordan and then use the new venture “as an anchor for future Iranian activities in Israel and the West Bank”. These activities included the eventual recruitment of “spies who would help collect intelligence for Iranian interests”, according to court documents. The Shin Bet said that Sha’afut’s handlers were two Arabic-speaking Iranian intelligence officers based in Lebanon and Syria, who went by the names Abu Sadek and Abu Jaffar. They allegedly provided Shafut with “an encrypted communication device”, which he used to arrange clandestine meetings with them throughout 2018 and 2019.

Sha’afut’s Iranian handlers allegedly planned to use him as a conduit for transferring funds to spies in the West Bank and Israel. They had told Sha’afut that Iranian intelligence would make an initial investment of $500,000 in his factory venture in Jordan and to an import-export business, in order to sustain his base of operations, with more funds to follow. Once the factory was set up, Sha’afut was expected to travel clandestinely to Iran in order to complete his training as a deep-cover case officer. Israeli daily Haaretz said on Thursday that Sha’afut was indicted earlier this month by military prosecutors in Jerusalem for “contact with an enemy country, contact with a hostile organization, and conspiracy to funnel money from an enemy entity”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 June 2019 | Permalink

Iran says it dismantled a ‘complicated’ CIA cyber operation in several countries

Ali ShamkhaniA senior Iranian security official said on Monday that Tehran had dismantled “one of the most complicated” espionage operations by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, leading to “arrests and confessions” of suspects in several countries. The announcement was made by Ali Shamkhani (pictured), secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, the Islamic Republic’s highest security decision-making body, which is chaired by the country’s president.

Speaking in Tehran to reporters from pro-government news agencies, including IRIB and Fars News, Shamkhani said that Iran had “exposed” what he described as a CIA-run cyber espionage network, which carried out “operations in different countries”. He said the alleged espionage network had been detected by Iranian counterintelligence agencies “some time ago and was dismantled”. Iran’s counterintelligence actions had led to the “identification and arrest of CIA intelligence agents”, said Shamkhani, many of whom had been arrested “in different countries”. The arrests occurred after Iran “shared the information about the exposed network with our allies”, said Shamkhani, which led to the “disclosure and dismantling of a network of CIA officers” as well as the “detention and punishment of several spies”. Shamkhani did not specify the number of people arrested, or in which countries, but appeared to refer to both CIA personnel and local assets. He concluded his remarks by saying that Iran was building a regional alliance “to counter American espionage”. He also urged Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to release “videos and confessions” relating to the arrests.

Meanwhile, Iranian anti-government groups based abroad alleged on Monday that a senior official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was arrested in Tehran for allegedly working for Israel. The unidentified individual is believed to have helped Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency gain access to the archive of the Iranian nuclear program in 2018, and steal an unspecified number of classified documents. It is not known whether this alleged arrest is connected with Shamkhani’s announcement on Monday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 June 2019 | Permalink

In a surprise move, Iran releases Washington resident accused of espionage

Nizar ZakkaIran has announced that it will release a Lebanese national and United States permanent resident, who has served nearly half of his 10-year prison sentence for allegedly spying for Washington. Nizar Zakka, 52, was born in Lebanon but was schooled in the US, where he lived permanently until 2015. In September of that year, Zakka traveled to the Iranian capital Tehran at the invitation of the government of Iran, where he spoke at a conference on Internet-based entrepreneurship. He attended the event as an information technology expert who worked for companies like Cisco and Microsoft before setting up his own company called IJMA3. Based in Washington, DC, IJMA3 lobbies investors to help build online networks in the Middle East in order to develop the region economically, socially and politically.

But on September 18, 2015, as Zakka was traveling to the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran for his return flight, he was detained by Iranian security officers and never made it out of the country. A year later, he was convicted of spying for the US and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The court also handed him a $4.2 million fine, allegedly for “collaborating with a government that was hostile to Iran”. Iran’s state-run media said Zakka was a “treasure trove” of intelligence on the American military. But the Lebanese IT expert denied all charges leveled against him. He said he was tortured during his interrogation and he went on frequent hunger strikes to protest his innocence and the conditions of his detention. Throughout his imprisonment, the Lebanese government pressured Iran for his release. The US also raised the issue through Congress and the Department of State. But Washington’s ability to influence Iran was limited, as it does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran.

On Tuesday, however, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had received word from Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon that Zakka would be released soon. The Iranians reportedly said they decided to release Zakka following personal interventions by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the country’s President Michel Aoun. Additionally, said the Iranian ambassador, Zakka would be released as “a goodwill gesture” during Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. The statement added that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was “ready to receive a Lebanese delegation at any time for the extradition of the Lebanese prisoner Nizar Zakka”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 June 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: Yemen conflict shows small-drone warfare ‘is here to stay’, say experts

DroneThe current wars in the Middle East, especially the ongoing conflict in Yemen, are proof that the use of small drones in insurgencies is now a permanent phenomenon of irregular warfare, according to experts. Drones have been used in warfare in the Middle East for almost 20 years —including by outside powers like the United States. But National Public Radio’s Geoff Brumfiel reports that the wars in Iraq and Syria, and especially the war between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, clearly demonstrate that we have entered “a new era of drone warfare”.

The use of off-the-shelf small drones has been increasing since 2010, with the Syrian Civil War having served as a testing ground for military uses of drones by all sides involved in the conflict. Belligerents quickly realized that the use of drones —whether remotely operated from the ground, or guided by GPS coordinates— could provide useful air power “for a fraction of the cost of fighter jets” employed by national militaries, according to Brumfiel. He quotes numerous drone warfare expects who agree that the ongoing Yemeni Civil War provides the clearest sign yet of the proliferation of drones for military and paramilitary purposes. The Houthi rebels have employed drones to attack government targets and targets such as air fields, oil installations and military bases in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Most of these drones, and the knowledge of how to modify them for military use, are given to the Houthis by Iran, according to RAND Corporation expert Ariane Tabatabai, who is quoted in Brumfiel’s article.

Iran has been developing military drone technology since the 1980s, but did not begin to employ drones outside of its airspace until 2015. The change was prompted by the emergence of the Islamic State emerged as a major Sunni threat to Shiite populations in the region. Iranian drones are now everywhere, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen. These drones, including drones used by the Houthis, are major sources of concern for conventional armies, because they are difficult to detect and destroy, according to Center for a New American Security researcher Nicholas Heras. He told Brumfiel that small drones are difficult to locate by radar, and their flight paths are far more flexible than those of airplanes. Additionally, those drones controllers can use GPS systems to “navigate through holes” in air defenses, said Heras.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 May 2019 | Permalink

US-Iran tensions may have been sparked by ‘misread intelligence’, claims report

Trump BoltonThe escalating tension between the United States and Iran, and the ensuing military buildup in the Persian Gulf, may have resulted from a misreading of intelligence by both sides, according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal. Reports from the Middle East continue to describe the situation there as tense, while the political rhetoric by both Washington and Tehran remains heightened. Last week, the White House ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to sail to Middle Eastern waters, following intelligence showing that “Iran or its proxies were planning attacks against US forces in Iraq, Syria and at sea”. Washington also evacuated all non-essential personnel from its embassy in Iraq. Meanwhile Iranian officials stated on Thursday that they were “prepared for war”, while the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major Genreal Hossein Salami, described the escalating crisis as “the most decisive moment in the [40-year history] of the Islamic Revolution”.

But a new report in The Wall Street Journal claimed on Thursday that the crisis between the two countries may have been caused by a misinterpretation of intelligence on each other’s moves. The paper said that new intelligence collected by American spy agencies appears to show that Tehran was under the impression that the US was about to launch attacks against it. There is no information about what precisely led the Iranians to draw that conclusion. But it is believed that Iran responded to the perceived threat from Washington by abruptly bolstering its military posture and placing its allies in the region —including Hezbollah in Lebanon and numerous Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, on high alert. Those actions were interpreted by Washington as evidence that Iran was planning to launch an attack against American interests in the region, thus prompting the White House to send the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group to sail to the area, and to partially evacuate its embassy in Iraq. Citing “people familiar with the matter”, the Journal said that new intelligence that has been collected “in recent days” points to the initial actions taken by Tehran as “defensive in nature”.

However, said that paper, there continue to be “sharply differing views” about the situation among officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump. Specifically, some administration officials continue to argue that the available intelligence indicates that Iran “was planning to strike first”, and some even believe that Tehran is still “planning imminent attacks” on the US and its interests in the region. The paper also noted that President Trump is believed to have told senior officials in his administration —including the Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan— that he does not want to see a military confrontation with Iran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2019 | Permalink