Opinion: Trump’s silence over Tehran attacks exposes US policy conundrums

IranThe security map of the Middle East changed within a few hours on Wednesday, when the Islamic State managed to strike Iran for the first time. Six assailants —five men and a woman— stormed the Islamic Consultative Assembly, which serves as the parliament of Iran, and the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini. By the time they killed themselves, or were killed by security forces, the six had murdered 12 people and injured over 60. The Islamic State, which carried out the attack, had warned for several months that it would launch a direct assault at the heart of the world’s largest Shiite state. It tried to do so before, several times, and failed. But Wednesday’s attack was the first time it managed to do so successfully.

It is certainly ironic that Iran, one of the world’s most prolific sponsors of terrorism, boasts of being one of the most terrorism-free countries in the Middle East. Indeed, Wednesday’s bloody strike was the largest terrorist attack in Tehran’s history after the early years of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is a remarkable record that many of Iran’s neighbors, such as Iraq or Syria, can only dream of. Moreover, Iran’s claim that its regional rival Saudi Arabia is responsible for Wednesday’s attack is both outlandish and absurd. It is true that militant Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s state religion, is at the root of the Islamic State’s doctrine. But the fanatics of the Islamic State direct as much ire against Saudi Arabia as they do against Iran. They accuse the former of being apostates —Muslim traitors who side with infidels— and the latter of being heretics that must be annihilated. Read more of this post

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Iranian spies second most active in Germany, says Interior Ministry

BND GermanyIranian intelligence operatives are the second most active in Germany after Russian spies, with much of their activity focusing on Israeli targets in the country, according to the German Interior Ministry. The information is contained in a report that was issued in response to a request by a member of Germany’s Bundestag last week. It states that Iranian spies have engaged in nearly two dozen known intelligence operations on German soil since 2007, and have even targeted individuals for assassination.

The Interior Ministry’s report reveals that German authorities initiated counterintelligence investigations against 22 cases of espionage by Iranian agents during the past decade. These account for over 17 percent of all counterintelligence cases conducted by the German state since 2007. Of the remaining cases, 27 concerned Russian spies, while China and Turkey are believed to be behind 15 spy cases each. Syrian intelligence operatives were found to be behind a total of eight spy operations conducted on German soil in the past decade. According to the report, the majority of intelligence operations conducted in Germany by Iranian agents were attempts to secure material and technologies that could be used in Iran’s nuclear program. Approximately half of Germany’s federal states reported attempts by Iranian agents to secure nuclear-related goods in recent years.

But Tehran has also allegedly been implicated in attempted assassinations of German citizens, according to the report. One example mentioned in the document is that of Mustafa Haidar Syed-Naqfi. Sayed-Naqfi, who is a Pakistani national, was arrested in the northern German city of Bremen in January of this year for spying on behalf of Iran. According to German authorities, the Pakistani man compiled lists of potential targets for assassination by Iran. As intelNews reported at the time, Syed-Naqfi’s list of targets included prominent Jews or German-Israelis living in northern Germany. Among them was Reinhold Robbe, a politician with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who served for a number of years as president of the German-Israeli Congress. According to reports, the spy had compiled detailed maps of Robbe’s daily movements, which outlined his travel routines and the routes he took from his home to the DIG headquarters in Berlin. German officials believe that the type of surveillance that Sayed-Naqfi. carried out against Robbe indisputably leads to the conclusion that the politician’s assassination was being planned.

German authorities believe that Syed-Naqfi worked for the Quds Force, a Special-Forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is responsible for covert operations outside Iran. Last month, the Pakistani man was given a four-year prison sentence by a Berlin court for engaging in espionage on German soil.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 April 2017 | Permalink

Israel’s chief of staff says Hezbollah killed its own commander in Syria

Mustafa Amine BadreddineAn Israeli military official has repeated claims in the Arab media that the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah killed its own military commander in Syria, following a dispute with Iran. Mustafa Amine Badreddine, 55, an expert in explosives and former bomb-maker, was a senior military commander in the military wing of Hezbollah. He rose through the ranks of the organization to become a trusted adviser to Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah. In 2011, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up by the United Nations, charged Badreddine with organizing the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri was killed with over 20 other people in a massive bomb blast in Beirut, in February of 2005.

Soon after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the leadership of Hezbollah dispatched Badreddine to the Syrian capital Damascus. His stated mission was to command thousands of Hezbollah troops, who fought under Iranian guidance in support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But on May 13, 2016, Badreddine was reportedly killed in Damascus, causing observers to describe his death as the biggest setback for the Shiite militant group since the 2008 assassination of its leading commander, Imad Mughniyeh. Initial reports in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese media suggested that Badreddine might have been killed in an Israeli air attack. But a press statement issued later by Hezbollah said the commander had been killed as a result of an armed attack by Sunni rebels. However, on March 8 of this year, the Saudi-owned pan-Arab television network al-Arabiya said it had conducted its own investigation into Badreddine’s death, and had concluded that he was killed by Hezbollah itself. The network claimed that Hezbollah’s Secretary General Nasrallah had ordered Badreddine’s killing, after the Iranians demanded it. Apparently the Iranians wanted him killed because he disputed the authority of Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is often credited with having saved the Syrian government from demise during the Civil War.

The claim that Badreddine was killed by Hezbollah was echoed on Tuesday by Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Speaking to the Associated Press, Lt Gen Eisenkot said that reports from Arab media that Badreddine was killed by his own forces agreed “with intelligence we have”, referring to the Israeli military. It is worth noting that Israeli officials rarely comment on intelligence operations, including assassination operations, choosing instead to adhere to a “refuse to confirm or deny” policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 March 2017 | Permalink

Iran sentences professor at Belgian university to death for spying

Ahmadreza DjalaliAn Iranian scientist who works at a university in Belgium has been sentenced to death in Iran, allegedly for spying. According to his family and his employer in Belgium, Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is currently in prison in Tehran. Dr. Djalali, 45, is professor of disaster medicine at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), a Dutch-speaking university located in the Belgian capital. For the past few years, Dr. Djalali has been based in Italy, where he teaches in the VUB’s European Master’s program in Disaster Medicine. According to an announcement on the VUB’s website, Dr. Djalali is now awaiting execution, which has been scheduled to take place later this month.

It is believed that the professor was arrested in April of last year, while visiting his family in Iran. But his family in Europe chose not to publicize his arrest, in hopes of getting him released. They spoke to the media only after Dr. Djalali was given a death sentence last week. The reason for the scientist’s arrest has not been made clear, but it is thought to relate to his collaboration with other researchers in Belgium and Italy, some of whom are Israeli citizens. Iran considers Israel an “enemy entity” and does not allow its citizens to interact with Israeli citizens. Officials at VUB claim that Dr. Djalali is has not been involved in political campaigns or discussions, and that his contacts with foreign scientists are solely research-driven.

According to his family, Dr. Djalali has protested his detention by launching hunger strikes on three separate occasions, which have severely affected his health. He also claims that he was not allowed access to lawyers and that he was not given a trial. Instead, he said he was interrogated and forced to sign a confession admitting to an offence that he does not recognize. Iranian authorities have refused comment on the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 February 2017 | Permalink

Pakistani man sought out assassination targets for Iran, says Germany

Reinhold RobbeAuthorities in Germany have pressed espionage charges against a Pakistani man who allegedly spied for Iran and even compiled lists of potential targets for assassination. The man, who has been identified in media reports only as “Syed Mustafa H.”, is a 31-year-old worker at the German Aerospace Center in the northern German city of Bremen. He is also reportedly a graduate of the Materials Science and Production Engineering department of the Universität Bremen. According to court documents, he is believed to have been spying for Iranian intelligence since the summer of 2015. It appears that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, had been aware of the man’s espionage activities for at least a year prior to his arrest.

German media, including the newspapers Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit, as well as public broadcasters Taggesschau, WDR and NDR, report that Syed Mustafa H.’s main task was to compile lists of potential assassination targets. These included prominent Jews or German-Israelis living in northern Germany. Among them was Reinhold Robbe, a politician with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who served for a number of years as president of the German-Israeli Congress (DIG). According to reports, the Pakistani spy had compiled detailed maps of Robbe’s daily movements, which outlined his travel routines and the routes he took from his home to the DIG headquarters in Berlin. German officials believe that the type of surveillance that Syed Mustafa H. carried out against Robbe indisputably leads to the conclusion that the politician’s assassination was being planned.

Reports in the German media suggest that Syed Mustafa H.’s work was a small part of a much broader operation by Iranian intelligence. The operation aims to identify prominent individuals throughout Europe, who have Israeli connections. These individuals can be targeted during a future conflagration between Israel and Iran, or in retaliation to an Israeli intelligence operation against Tehran. If Syed Mustafa H. is found guilty of targeting Robbe, it will mark the first proven case of a German political figure who has been targeted for possible assassination by an Iranian intelligence agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 January 2017 | Permalink

Iran arrests 12 nuclear negotiators on espionage charges

Iran nuclear negotiationsIranian authorities have reportedly arrested at least 12 members of the country’s team of nuclear negotiators on charges of espionage. The 12 are believed to have represented Iran in international talks about its nuclear program between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

The arrests were revealed by Iranian opposition parliamentarian Hussein Ali Haji Degana, who told reporters on Thursday that those detained held significant posts in the Iranian team that negotiated with representatives of the P5+1 group. Mr. Degana added that some of the 12 held dual citizenships, but did not specify the names of those arrested or their countries of citizenship. Iranian media, which is heavily controlled by the government in Tehran, did not report Degana’s comments. But they were widely publicized by Arab media, including Saudi and Iraqi news agencies.

In March of 2015, Amir Hossein Motaghi, a media advisor to the Iranian president, who covered the international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, defected to the West. Last August, the office of the Iranian prosecutor said that a dual national with Iranian citizenship had been arrested for spying on Tehran for an unspecified foreign intelligence service. The individual was later identified as Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a dual Iranian and Canadian citizen, who was allegedly recruited by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. Esfahani was said to be an accountant with some involvement in the financial aspects of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and foreign powers.

It is not known whether the alleged arrests of 12 more members of the Iranian negotiating team are connected with the espionage charges against Esfahani. Mr. Degana said he hopped that the names of the 12 detainees will be released to the media by the authorities and that their trials will be transparent and open to public scrutiny.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 November 2016 | Permalink

Conflicting details on Iranian nuclear negotiator arrested for espionage

Iran nuclear negotiationsIranian officials have confirmed reports from earlier this month that a member of the country’s team of nuclear negotiators has been arrested for engaging in espionage for a foreign country. But there are conflicting details about the case in Iranian media reports. Rumors about the identity of the individual began to circulate on August 16, after the office of the Iranian prosecutor announced that a dual national with Iranian citizenship had been arrested for spying on Tehran for a foreign intelligence service. The individual was not named, but some reports connected him with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6.

On Sunday, Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, identified the man as Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani. Ejeie was specifically asked about the espionage case during his weekly press conference, and responded saying that an “espionage infiltration” had indeed been detected and that “legal action” was being taken against Esfahani. He did add, however, that the arrest and concurrent investigation had not yet resulted in a case that could stand in court, thus Esfahani had been released on bail. When asked whether Esfahani would be charged, Ejeie said that official charges had not been filed, because “the charge against [Esfahani] has not been proven yet”. He implied, however, that charges would eventually be filed.

There are also conflicting reports about Esfahani’s background and involvement with the Iranian government. Early reports suggested that he is a dual citizen of Canada and Iran. But subsequent reports stated that he holds both Iranian and British passports, and that he had been recruited by MI6. Some unconfirmed reports claimed that Esfahani received payments from both British and American intelligence agencies. What appears more certain is that Esfahani is an accountant with some involvement in the financial aspects of the recent nuclear negotiations between Iran and foreign powers. It is also believed that he was not a core member of Iran’s negotiating team, but provided a supporting role on financial aspects of the negotiations.

The recently concluded negotiations, were aimed at bridging the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. In March 2015, Hossein Motaghi, a media advisor to the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who was in Switzerland to cover the negotiations, defected and filed an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 August 2016 | Permalink