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.


Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

Updated 26 September 2022

Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

  • “We will implement sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said

OTTAWA: Canada on Monday announced sanctions against Iranian officials over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests driven by the death of a young woman after her arrest by the morality police.
“We will implement sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference.
“We join our voices, the voices of all Canadians, to the millions of people around the world demanding that the Iranian government listen to their people, end their repression of freedoms and rights and let women and all Iranians live their lives and express themselves peacefully.”


Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

Updated 26 September 2022

Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

  • Protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up
  • Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani has long been aligned with ultra-conservative establishment

TEHERAN: A leading Iranian cleric has urged authorities "to listen to the people", as protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including the capital Teheran, for 10 straight nights since the death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old was pronounced dead on Sept 16, three days after her arrest in the capital for allegedly breaching Iran's dress code for women.

"The leaders must listen to the demands of the people, resolve their problems and show sensitivity to their rights," said Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani in a statement posted on his website on Sunday.

The powerful 97-year-old cleric has long been aligned with the country's ultra-conservative establishment and strongly backed supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on several occasions - notably during the 2009 protests against the reelection of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Any insult to the sanctities and any attack on the rights of the people and public property are condemned," Hamedani added.

At least 41 people have been killed since the protests began on Sept 16, mostly protesters but including security forces, according to an official toll.

The protests have spread to several cities, where demonstrators have shouted slogans against the authorities, according to local media.

More than 1,200 demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country.

On Sept 18, Grand Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, a cleric seen as close to the reformists, denounced what he said were "illegitimate" and "illegal" actions behind the "regrettable incident" of Amini's death.


Germany urges Iran to allow protests after summoning ambassador

Updated 26 September 2022

Germany urges Iran to allow protests after summoning ambassador

  • “We call on the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to not deploy further violence — in particular not fatal violence — against protesters,” the ministry said

BERLIN: Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin on Monday in order to urge Tehran to stop its violent crackdown on nationwide protests over the death of a woman in police custody, the German foreign ministry said.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to not deploy further violence — in particular not fatal violence — against protesters,” the ministry said on Twitter. “We also communicated that directly to the Iranian ambassador in Berlin today.”
Asked about the possibility of further sanctions on Tehran in response to the violence, a ministry spokesperson had earlier said, “we will consider all options” with other European Union states.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women. Washington said it held the unit responsible for the Sept. 16 death of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress. 


Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Updated 26 September 2022

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

  • Hundreds of demonstrators, activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations
  • The unrest first broke out on September 16 after the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in custody of Iran's morality police

TEHRAN: Authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests following a young Kurdish woman’s death in morality policy custody, state media reported Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16.
Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jhina, was detained three days before that in Tehran for allegedly breaching rules mandating hijab head coverings and modest dress.
“During the troubles of the past days, 450 rioters have been arrested in Mazandaran,” the northern province’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Karimi, was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
They “have attacked government buildings and damaged public property in several parts of Mazandaran,” he added.
Local media reported that protesters were shouting anti-regime slogans, and Karimi said they were led by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”
On Saturday, authorities in the neighboring Guilan province announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
At least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll.
Photos published Monday by the Tasnim news agency showed protesters in Qom, a holy Shiite city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Security forces have released these images of “lead instigators,” Tasnim reported, asking residents to “identify them and inform the authorities.”


Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Updated 26 September 2022

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

  • Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the demonstrations across the country

TEHRAN: Authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests following a young Kurdish woman’s death in morality policy custody, state media reported Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16.
Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jhina, was detained three days before that in Tehran for allegedly breaching rules mandating hijab head coverings and modest dress.
“During the troubles of the past days, 450 rioters have been arrested in Mazandaran,” the northern province’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Karimi, was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
They “have attacked government buildings and damaged public property in several parts of Mazandaran,” he added.
Local media reported that protesters were shouting anti-regime slogans, and Karimi said they were led by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”
On Saturday, authorities in the neighboring Guilan province announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
At least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll.
Photos published Monday by the Tasnim news agency showed protesters in Qom, a holy Shiite city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Security forces have released these images of “lead instigators,” Tasnim reported, asking residents to “identify them and inform the authorities.”