The Covert ‘War’ In Iran

By Peter C Glover and Michael J. Economides

The assassination of another Iranian nuclear scientist on the streets of Tehran immediately cast suspicion on the obvious and usual suspects, the Israeli Mossad and America’s CIA. But Israeli writer Caroline Glick posits a third equally credible suspect: Iran’s internal opposition party, the Green Movement (no connection with an eco-movement). And when the facts are more closely examined the assertion that a campaign of sabotage, in which the Green Movement is at least complicit, has traction.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, “a deputy in charge of commerce at the Natanz [nuclear] site”, was killed on 11 January when two motor cyclists attached a bomb to the side of his Peugeot car. Previously, on 28 November 2011, Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Isfahan was wrecked after a bombing squad penetrated within the compound. Earlier the same month an explosion at the Bidganeh Air Force base took out a key military installation operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It was the third attack of its kind on such installations which succeeded in killing the head of Iran’s ballistic missile program, Major-General Hassan Moghaddam. 180 Shahab 3 ballistic missiles were also destroyed.

In July 2011 another nuclear scientist, Dariush Resai-Nejad, was shot dead in front of his Tehran home when two gunmen riding motor cycles opened fire. In May 2011, the Abadan oil refinery was bombed while President Ahmadinejad himself was visiting the site. And in November 2010, two bombings on the same day killed one nuclear scientist and wounded another. Reports of attacks on Iranian gas pipelines have also jumped, from three during 2008-9 to 17 during 2011. Since 2010 a further dozen explosions caused major damage at the country’s oil refineries.

That there is a low-level undeclared covert war on Iran’s nuclear and energy infrastructure – the regime’s economic bedrock – is clear enough. But, as Glick asks, “Who is perpetrating it? What are their aims?”

Tehran has been quick to blame Israel and America for the assassinations. On January 13, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by Press TV that Roshan’s death shows that “the global arrogance spearheaded by the U.S. and Zionism has reached a deadlock in confrontation with the determined, devout and progressive nation of Islamic Iran.”

The regime’s response elsewhere has been more nuanced, preferring, for instance, to label the 12 November military installation blast at Bidganeh as an “accident”. However, the bomb blasts at Abadan in May and Bidganeh in November each coincided with a visit by President Ahmadinejad (on site at the time) and, it seems, Ayatollah Khamenei himself (not on site, apparently being delayed) on the occasion of the latter. What we have is a strategic series of bombings and shootings focusing on key regime figures, leading members of the Revolutionary Guard and high value economic targets.

Glick agrees with Dr Michael Ledeen, Iran expert at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that the attacks are the work of Iran’s internal opposition movement; a movement rooted in the protests after the regime “stole the 2009 presidential elections”. Glick explains how the movement quickly “morphed” into a “full-blown revolutionary movement” demanding the overthrow of the regime, not least as a result of government brutality towards its members. Glick goes on to quote American military analyst J.E. Dyer stating that the hard-hit Isfahan facility was hardly a “vital installation”, it being “several notches down the list of things needed to be struck”. According to Dyer, making it “extremely unlikely that a Western government” would want to take it out. Thus, Dyer and Glick suggest, hardly the kind of key targets CIA or Israeli-backed strikes would need in order to derail Iran’s nuclear program.

Glick allows for two alternatives: a strategy of sabotage orchestrated solely by the internal Green Movement or the movement’s complicity with external forces, especially the Israelis. In support of the latter, Glick contends that Israeli officials “have hinted that it was a collaborative effort between local regime opponents and foreign forces”.

Moving on to the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran in late November 2011, Glick states – and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague concurs – that it was actually conducted by “regime goons” (not real students) belonging to the “same Basij force that massacred, tortured and raped the anti-regime protestors from the Green Movement in 2009”. In this assertion we are reminded precisely why the Iranian Green Movement may well have taken its regime opposition to a whole new level of violence.

Two conclusions can, however, be drawn from the current low-level war being conducted in Iran.

First, it remains unclear precisely who is responsible for the current campaign of assassinations and sabotage in Iran. However, it is hard to believe that an internal ‘Green Movement’ could possess the wherewithal and know-how to perpetrate some of the cleverly executed attacks without external…er…”professional” guidance and /or participation. But collusion between national and international groups effectively threatened with annihilation by a brutal Mullahcracy bent on attaining atomic superpower status that not only threatens Israel but the geopolitics of the entire region is by no means fanciful.

Second, as Glick maintains, Tehran’s claims that the assassinations have been the work of foreign “infidels” has not – as some Western voices predicted – led to an upsurge of anti-Western sentiment and popular nationalism intent on defending the current regime. Glick sees that as “instructive” for Western governments weighing the nuclear end game in the wake of the latest with the latest IAEA findings that confirm Tehran is approaching its goal.

The EU is negotiating an Iranian oil embargo. The U.S. is picking up the tab to keep open the Straits of Hormuz, preventing Tehran from choking the global oil trade. It may all be the last throw of the dice to cripple the regime. The collusion of internal and external ‘forces’ in Iran’s escalating covert war together with the distinct lack of popular support for the regime at a time of internal ‘foreign aggression’ suggests that most Iranians believe the state’s strategic nuclear objective is military, not domestic, power. The assassinations become an equally strategic way of ‘persuading’ those involved in the wisdom of finding a new, non-military, line of work.

Glover is Europe Associate Editor and Economides is Editor-in-Chief of the Energy Tribune