Opinion

Humiliation piled on humiliation for Iran’s spy agencies

Humiliation piled on humiliation for Iran’s spy agencies

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It turns out Iran’s intelligence services aren’t so intelligent after all. After a series of mortifying failures, Hossein Taeb — Iran’s “untouchable” spy chief, with close ties to the supreme leader — has been summarily thrown overboard.

This was a man who enjoyed immense power and unimaginable resources, and was responsible for crushing domestic dissent and eliminating threats and irritants overseas.

Taeb climbed to the top of Iran’s greasy pole in 2009 through playing a prominent role in the mass killing and torture of protesters. In recent days the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps lauded such atrocities as great accomplishments.

Taeb was exposed as comically incompetent when Israeli agents assassinated at least seven nuclear scientists and intelligence officials in the past two months. Attackers struck deep inside some of Iran’s most secret locations; they came out of nowhere then simply melted away, giving rise to confused reports in the Iranian media about killer robots, suicide drones, masked assassins and self-firing machineguns. Some of these sabotage operations were overseen from neighboring Azerbaijan and Iraqi Kurdistan. Those coordinating the strikes succeeded in recruiting significant numbers of Iranians with the necessary skills and connections, probably including employees at these sites, and even carried out two attacks on the flagship Natanz nuclear plant.

The rot goes all the way to the top: Gen Ali Nasiri, a senior Guards commander, was arrested for spying for Israel, and several dozen employees from the Ministry of Defense’s missile development program are thought to have been detained on suspicion of leaking classified military information, including missile blueprints, to Israel.

Ayoob Entezari, an aerospace engineer, was fatally poisoned at a dinner party. The event’s host hasn’t been seen since. Entezari’s “martyrdom” was first denounced as an act of “biological terror,” before the Iranian media suddenly changed its story — denying foul play, or even that Entezari held a sensitive role, in a transparent attempt to hide how badly the intelligence agencies had bungled. Again!

Hardly a week goes by without reports of mysterious explosions, assassinations, and hacking of critical infrastructure. Last week three Iranian steel factories, major suppliers to the Guards, were hit by a cyberattack.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gloated about his “octopus doctrine” — instead of focusing on the tentacles, he goes “straight for the head.” Unfortunately, although these attacks are shattering the regime’s morale, they are mere pinpricks. If Israel wants to halt Iran’s nuclear program and its transnational paramilitary armies, full-on decapitation is required.

In the meantime, this demented octopus has flailed about, wildly threatening revenge but rarely delivering. Remember all the promises to unleash “divine vengeance” for the 2020 killing of Qassim Soleimani and Abu-Mahdi Al-Muhandis? Or to avenge the assassination of nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh? 

The Islamic Republic is a time bomb waiting to implode through the accumulation of its own failures. Never has there been a better time for regional powers to light the fuse and put an end to this evil once and for all.

Baria Alamuddin

Taeb sought retribution for the killing of Col. Sayad Khodaei, deputy commander of a covert Guards assassinations unit, by sending his goons to Turkey to kill Israeli diplomats and tourists. However, Israel tipped off Ankara and the conspiracy was thwarted. Similar operations appear to have been planned in Egypt. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that Ankara would not tolerate terror attacks on its soil, an indication of how such botched operations are pulling Turkey closer into the coalescing alliance of anti-Iran states.

Entrenched Iranian positions and outlandish new demands are derailing the revival of the Iran nuclear deal. Neither side holds out much hope for success, but they fear the consequences of admitting that talks have failed.

Nevertheless, American officials asserted that Iran had been severely discountenanced by prospects of a regional defense pact. Israel has acquiesced to the supply of sophisticated air defense systems, radars, and cyber technology to new allies, the US is encouraging Egypt and Jordan to deepen security ties with Israel, and there is the game-changing prospect that Israel and Saudi Arabia could be part of such an alliance.

Such nervousness is certainly motivating Tehran’s recent outreach to Riyadh. Saudi officials are right to not trust a word they hear, stressing that they need to see de-escalatory actions, not empty words. Perhaps the Iranian president’s recent voicing of support for a ceasefire in Yemen is a move in this direction.

Lack of progress is spurring Iran to apply pressure elsewhere, including efforts to take over the government in Iraq, and an incident in which Israel shot down three Hezbollah drones near an Israeli gas rig in an area of sea claimed by Lebanon.

“The region is changing, alliances are changing… These are serious threats that need to be thwarted,” one senior Iranian official nervously told Reuters. However, another one commented: “Our nuclear program is advancing every day. Time is on our side.”

The Revolutionary Guards probably don’t want a revived nuclear deal. The paradoxical impact of sanctions has been that most oil is smuggled out via their vast economic conglomerates, and as the price soars they are making a killing. Their revenues now mostly come from outside the official government budget, something that wouldn’t be tenable if the deal were revived — hence the deliberately obstructive demand that sanctions be lifted from the the Guards’ economic empire, Khatam Al-Anbiya.

Iran meanwhile is disintegrating from the inside. Last month there were major anti-government protests and strikes throughout the country. Pensioners have been demonstrating over the wiping out of their pensions by runaway inflation, the result of incompetent regime policies. The currency plunged 25 percent in four months.

The Islamic Republic is its own worst enemy. The most likely prospect for slaying this dragon is collapse from within: Iranians hate this regime and much of the country is a patchwork of oppressed minorities who sooner or later will unite to oust the detested ayatollahs.

Regional powers are right to put their energies into a defensive alliance to counter Iranian expansionism; the only regret is that this didn’t happen 40 years ago.

However, the most fertile avenue for ending such maleficence is for a focused campaign within Iran itself, capitalizing on the ayatollahs’ incompetence, misgovernance and unpopularity.

The Islamic Republic is a time bomb waiting to implode through the accumulation of its own failures. Never has there been a better time for regional powers to light the fuse and put an end to this evil once and for all.

 

Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

A display of the remnants of Iranian drones used to carry out the 2019 attack on Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 July 2022

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

  • Navy targets weapons and drugs in Arabian Gulf and Red Sea

JEDDAH: The US Navy is offering cash rewards of up to $100,000 for information leading to the interception of smuggled weapons and narcotics in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.

The initiative by the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet does not directly name Iran but analysts said it was clearly aimed at curbing the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen and restricting the lucrative regional drugs trade operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Any destabilizing activity has our attention,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said. “Definitely we have seen in the last year skyrocketing success in seizing both illegal narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”
Operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi will staff a phone hotline, and the Navy will also take tips online in Dari and Pashto. Payouts can be as high as $100,000 or the equivalent in vehicles, boats or food for tips that include information on planned attacks targeting Americans.
Asked whether new seizures could increase tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy hoped to intercept under the program. “That’s what we’re after,” he said. “That’s not in the interest of regional stability and security.”

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The fleet and its allies seized $500 million in drugs alone in 2021, more than the four previous years combined, and intercepted the shipment of 9,000 weapons, three times the number in 2020.
Despite a UN Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Tehran has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. UN experts have examined missiles aimed at civilian targets and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and traced the components back to Iran.
The rewards program is the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid rising tension with Iran. The US Navy and Revolutionary Guard naval forces have had several encounters in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Houthis said last week they were monitoring increased US activity in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.“Because of this, defense and confrontation options are open,” a spokesman said.


US studying Iran’s response to EU proposal to save nuclear deal -State Dept

Updated 17 sec ago

US studying Iran’s response to EU proposal to save nuclear deal -State Dept

WASHINGTON: The United States is studying Iran’s response to the European Union’s proposal to save a nuclear deal and is sharing its views with the bloc, a US State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday, after receiving Iran’s comments from the EU.
Iran responded to the European Union’s “final” draft text to save a 2015 nuclear deal on Monday, an EU official said, as the Iranian foreign minister called on the United States to show flexibility to resolve three remaining issues.


Iraq’s Sadr backtracks on call for huge protest

Updated 33 min 54 sec ago

Iraq’s Sadr backtracks on call for huge protest

  • The populist cleric's announcement came amid behind the scenes talks aimed at steering Iraq out of crisis
  • Sadr wants parliament dissolved to pave the way for new legislative elections

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr backtracked Tuesday after earlier urging his supporters to join a massive rally as a standoff with his political rivals appeared to be getting worse.
The populist cleric’s announcement came amid behind the scenes talks aimed at steering Iraq out of crisis, with the country’s two branches of Shiite Islam jockeying for supremacy.
More than 10 months on from elections, Iraq still has no government, new prime minister or new president, because of disagreement between factions over forming a coalition.
Sadr wants parliament dissolved to pave the way for new legislative elections, but his rivals the pro-Iran Coordination Framework want to set conditions and are demanding a transitional government before new polls.
The cleric’s bloc emerged from last October’s elections as parliament’s biggest, but still far short of a majority.
Sadr, whose supporters have been staging a sit-in protest outside parliament in Baghdad’s high security Green Zone for more than two weeks, had called for a “million-man demonstration” in the capital on Saturday.
But on Tuesday he announced on Twitter “the indefinite postponement of Saturday’s protest.”
“If you had been betting on a civil war, I am betting on preserving social peace. The blood of Iraqis is more precious than anything else,” Sadr said.
Late on Monday, a committee organizing demonstrations in support of the Coordination Framework also announced new gatherings, but without setting a date.
The Coordination Framework launched their own Baghdad sit-in on Friday, camping out on an avenue in the capital.
The Coordination Framework comprises former paramilitaries of the Tehran-backed Hashed Al-Shaabi network and the party of former premier Nuri Al-Maliki, a longtime Sadr foe.
So far, the rival Shiite protests have been peaceful, with attempts at mediation ongoing.
Hadi Al-Ameri, leader of a Hashed faction, has also called for calm and for dialogue. He has had a series of meetings with political leaders including allies of Sadr.
Also on Tuesday, Finance Minister Ali Allawi who is in the current government submitted his resignation to the Council of Ministers, the INA state news agency reported.
Iraq has been ravaged by decades of conflict and endemic corruption.
It is blighted by ailing infrastructure, power cuts and crumbling public services, and now also faces water shortages as drought ravages swathes of the country.
Despite its oil wealth, many Iraqis are mired in poverty, and some 35 percent of young people are unemployed, according to the United Nations.

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Iraq’s finance minister resigns over political crisis

Updated 16 August 2022

Iraq’s finance minister resigns over political crisis

  • The officials said Finance Minister Ali Allawi resigned during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to protest the political conditions
  • Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar will become acting finance minister

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s finance minister resigned Tuesday, two government officials said, over the country’s worst political crisis in years involving an influential Shiite cleric and his Iran-aligned rivals.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Finance Minister Ali Allawi resigned during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to protest the political conditions. They said Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar will become acting finance minister.
Allawi’s decision came weeks after members of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned from parliament and his supporters stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Al-Sadr later demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.
Al-Sadr won the largest share of seats in the election last October but failed to form a majority government that excluded his Iran-aligned rivals.
Al-Sadr’s political rivals in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed parties, said earlier that parliament would have to convene to dissolve itself. They called the Al-Sadr supporters’ storming of parliament a “coup” and have held demonstrations in support of the government.
Iraq’s political impasse, now in its 10th month, is the longest in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion reset the political order.


Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Updated 16 August 2022

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

  • Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention
  • Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

JERUSALEM: The lawyer for a Palestinian prisoner said Tuesday that his client will appeal his case to Israel’s Supreme Court as he continues what his family says is a 165-day hunger strike against his detention.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli military court extended the sentence for a second Palestinian prisoner by six days.
The release of both men — hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh and Bassam Al-Saadi, a West Bank Islamic Jihad leader — was among the demands of the Islamic Jihad militant group for a cease-fire to last week’s intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention. Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said her client’s health is deteriorating and that they asked that he be released. An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal.
“Justice was not done with that man,” Haddad said. “We turn to ... the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, in order maybe to get the relief requested, which is his release from administrative detention.”
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years to protest administrative detention. Israel says the policy helps keep dangerous militants off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.
Israel says Awawdeh is a militant, an allegation he has denied through his lawyer.
The Islamic Jihad militant group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as its member. Israel arrested Al-Saadi in the days leading up to the Gaza flare-up.
Haddad said her client has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition to Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state, which shows no sign of ending.


Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Updated 16 August 2022

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

  • The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon

CONCORD, New Hampshire: A judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before he died in the US, and that the agency could not intervene in the case.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese American man, died in the US in August 2020 at age 57 from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, had first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Lebanon stricken. That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order Monday.
The Lebanese security agency had claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.
The family’s lawsuit initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a wavier of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
Bates wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.
Bates also wrote that the allegations about Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon that the security agency wishes to strike “are central to this lawsuit.”
Messages seeking comment were sent to the lawyers.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury, a restaurateur in New Hampshire, visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.