Iranian hackers used Gmail, Facebook, to spy on US aerospace contractor

Computer hacking

A GROUP OF HACKERS, who are known to operate under the direction of the Iranian government, used fictitious Gmail and Facebook accounts to compromise employees of a United States defense contractor. A report issued on Monday by the California-based cybersecurity company Proofpoint identified the hackers behind the espionage campaign as members of a group codenamed Threat Actor 456 (TA456).

Known also as Imperial Kitten and Tortoiseshell, TA456 has a history of pursuing espionage targets at the direction of the Iranian government. According to Proofpoint, TA456 is among “the most determined” Iranian-aligned threat actors. The cybersecurity firm adds that the espionage activities of TA456 often target Western “defense industrial base contractors” that are known to specialize in the Middle East.

The most recent operation by TA456 involved a fictitious online personality that went by the name “Marcella Flores”, also known as “Marcy Flores”, who claimed to live in the British city of Liverpool. The group used a Gmail account and fake Facebook profile to reinforce the fictitious profile’s credibility, and to approach employees of United States defense contractors. One such employee began corresponding with Flores on Facebook toward the end of 2019.

In June 2021, after having cultivated the relationship with the defense employee for over a year, Flores sent the employee a link to a video file, purportedly of herself. The file contained a malware, known as LEMPO, which is designed to search targeted computers and provide the hacker party with copies of files found on penetrated systems.

Facebook is apparently aware of the espionage campaign by TA456. Last month, the social media company said it had taken action “against a group of hackers in Iran [in order] to disrupt their ability to use their infrastructure to abuse [Facebook’s] platform, distribute malware and conduct espionage operations across the internet, targeting primarily the United States”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 August 2021 | Permalink

Authorities probe death of Swiss senior diplomat in Iran —US reportedly notified

Embassy of Switzerland Iran

SWISS AUTHORITIES ON TUESDAY confirmed that a senior diplomat working at the embassy of Switzerland in Iran had died, after apparently falling from a high-rise building in a leafy northern Tehran suburb. Subsequent reports stated that United States officials had been informed of the incident.

The Swiss diplomat’s death would be of interest to Washington, because the Swiss embassy in the Iranian capital has represented US interests since 1980. A few months earlier, Iran and the US had suspended diplomatic ties following the dramatic events surrounding what came to be known as the Iran hostage crisis. The two countries have yet to re-establish diplomatic ties.

The diplomat, a 51-year-old woman, has not been identified. Reports suggest that she lived in a high-rise building located at Kamranieh, a northern suburb of Tehran, which is known for being one of Iran’s most affluent urban areas. A spokesman for Tehran’s emergency services said the woman’s body was found by a gardener on Tuesday, after police initiated a search for the missing diplomat. On Monday, an employee of the high-rise where the Swiss diplomat lived had contacted the police saying she was missing.

Iranian media reported that the diplomat had been dead for some time before her body was discovered. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that one of its employees at its embassy in Tehran had “died in a fatal incident”. But it did not provide any details. According to Swiss media reports, the cause of the woman’s fall “has yet to be determined”, and authorities are still investigating the incident. Suicide does not appear to be the cause of the diplomat’s death. Swiss authorities said they were in contact with the Iranian government about the fatal incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 May 2021 | Permalink

US is far from rejoining Iran nuclear deal, Biden reportedly tells Mossad chief

Yossi CohenUNITED STATES JOE BIDEN reportedly told the director of Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, that Washington has “a long way to go” before rejoining a 2015 agreement aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The meeting between Biden and Mossad director Yossi Cohen reportedly took place last Friday, during Cohen’s visit to Washington last week, to discuss bilateral security issues with a series of American officials. On Thursday Cohen met with a number of Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Brett McGurk, who is the National Security Council’s Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

The following day, the Mossad chief visited the White House to discuss a variety of “regional security issues” with Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns. It was during that meeting, according to reports from Israel’s Channel 12 television, that the US president “dropped in” unexpectedly, allegedly in order to express his administration’s condolences for the fatal stampede that killed dozens in Israel last week. Biden’s unexpected appearance at the meeting was later confirmed by a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

During the weekend, however, a number of Israeli news outlets, as well as the American website Axios, cited “a senior Israeli official” who said that Biden’s appearance at the meeting was not an impromptu incident, but had actually been “pre-scheduled”. The US president wanted to “discuss Iran” with Cohen, according to Axios, and did so for “about an hour”. According to Israeli sources, Cohen shared Israel’s position that “it would be a mistake for the US to return to the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] without improving it first”. Biden did not directly respond to Cohen’s view of the agreement, but said that his administration was not yet ready to re-enter the agreement. He reportedly added that Washington would consult Israel on the matter.

Neither the White House nor the office of the Israeli prime minster have commented on these reports.

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

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