Yassamine Mather investigates the murky world of deep penetration, sabotage and assassination
Last week ayatollah Ali Younessi made the amazing claim that the Israeli national intelligence agency, Mossad, has infiltrated many sections of Iran’s leadership and the country’s security services. Younessi was minister for intelligence during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005.
In an interview with the Iranian ‘reformist’ website, Jamaran, Younessi said:
The leaders of the country don’t show any interest in what’s best for the public and their lives, and Mossad has succeeded, with enticements of influence and money, to penetrate the regime’s security bodies ... Now the regime is busy persecuting people who are loyal to the country, particularly from the reformist camp, instead of detecting and detaining the infiltrators working on behalf of Israel.
The regime established many intelligence agencies with overlapping tasks, for the purpose of weakening the intelligence ministry. Spy agencies can easily penetrate radical groups and organisations, because in these groups only radicalism matters. Spy agencies pick the right radicals from among their own ranks or elsewhere and have them infiltrate other intelligence agencies. The more radical they are, the quicker they get promoted and reach the top echelon of the intelligence agencies.1
Of course, the former intelligence minister was adamant that all Israeli infiltration took place after he left office in 2005. While it is difficult to assess everything he said, he is probably right that “sycophants and radicals were the most likely to be lured by foreign intelligence agencies”.
It should be noted that such claims are not new. Throughout the last few months some of the people I know in Iran have been saying exactly the same thing. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also claiming that officials within Iran’s intelligence agencies have played an important role, covering the tracks of those involved in the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists - the latest victim being Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. According to Ahmadinejad, “A massive Israeli operation used a corrupt gang of security personnel in the upper echelons of the national intelligence apparatus.”
Iranian officials associated with various factions of the regime admit privately that a sizeable clandestine Israeli network is working inside government agencies and in particular inside the country’s state security sector. It is believed that this network is involved in assassinations and attacks against nuclear and military installations. According to some officials, this network has recruited significant numbers of Iranians willing to install explosives, attack state installations and provide information regarding the movement of senior members of the Revolutionary Guards, scientists, etc.
These claims could have been dismissed, had it not been for what appears as confirmation by the outgoing director of Mossad, Yossi Cohen. He admitted in an interview on the Israeli TV station, Channel 12, that Israel was behind recent attacks against Iran’s nuclear programme and the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, who was one of the country’s top nuclear scientists. Cohen went further, issuing a threat to other Iranian nuclear experts by claiming that their lives were likewise in danger. The former Mossad director conceded: “If the scientist is willing to change career and will not hurt us any more, then, yes, sometimes we offer them a way out.”
All this comes at a time when negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear programme are continuing in Vienna.
In the last few years a number of ‘incidents’ have affected Iran’s nuclear plants. Amongst them were several explosions in the Natanz nuclear facility, including one targeting its underground enrichment facilities, as well as unexplained fires in other installations.
Although Cohen did not admit Israeli responsibility for these incidents, the Channel 12 ‘investigative’ reporter implied he had been given access to full details in a voiceover, where he described how Israel managed to get explosives into Natanz’s underground halls. The reporter, Ilana Dayan, told viewers:
The man who was responsible for these explosions, it becomes clear, made sure to supply to the Iranians the marble foundation on which the centrifuges are placed. As they installed this foundation within the Natanz facility, they had no idea that it already includes an enormous amount of explosives.2
According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Yossi Cohen is “arrogant and corrupt - and wants to be prime minister”.3 Accusations of corruption are to do with Cohen’s acceptance of a gift of thousands of dollars from the Australian billionaire, James Packer, who happens to be a neighbour and supporter of former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In the same TV programme Cohen claimed this was an “honest mistake” and he will be returning the money.
However, when it comes to clandestine activities against Iran, there is no limit to Cohen’s boasting. Although he stopped short of admitting Mossad’s role in the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, the reporter identified Cohen as the man who “personally signed off on the entire campaign”, describing in some detail how a remotely operated machine gun, fixed to a pick-up truck, killed the Iranian scientist and later self-destructed.
In the interview they also talked about Israel’s access to and seizing of documents regarding Iran’s nuclear and military activities, which were used in a number of Netanyahu’s interventions when he was trying to stop the nuclear deal. Again according to the reporter, as many as 20 non-Israeli agents (one presumes Iranians) were involved in stealing material from 32 locations. The documents were scanned and transmitted to Mossad.
In what appeared to be a blunt warning, Cohen said:
It was important to us that the world will see this, but this thing should also resonate with the Iranian leadership, to tell them, ‘Dear friends: one, you have been infiltrated; two, we see you…; three, the era of… lies is over.’4
However, Cohen’s claims have not been taken up by the press and media. Had they been about any other country’s security services - especially one antagonistic to US and western global dictates - we would have heard endless condemnation. There would have been a United Nations investigation and ‘human rights’ groups would have been up in arms. But, as always, there is one rule for the US and its allies - Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc - and another for the rest. So here we have the admission of Israel that it interfered in the affairs of another state, ordered assassinations, caused explosions, etc, and no-one seems bothered.
But in Iran’s Islamic Republic, of course, things are a little different. The regime has executed many of its opponents - leftwingers, nationalists, environmental activists - accusing them of ‘spying for Israel’. So many political prisoners have been paraded on Iranian TV, admitting to having done so (and showing all the signs of physical and mental torture). But quite clearly the accusations against them were ridiculous. How would opponents of the security-conscious, religious regime gain vital information about the well-guarded secrets of its nuclear programme? The Younessi interview is significant in this respect, as it makes clear that the ‘spies’ are amongst those closest to the ruling circles of the Shia state.
The former intelligence minister’s warning that the lives of the country’s officials are in danger as a result of the infiltration of Israeli spies might be true. However, it could also be the parting shot of the ‘reformist’ faction, now their influence has been so greatly reduced following the presidential election. They are, after all, unlikely to make a political comeback in the near future.