News / Middle East

Covert War on Iran Heats Up

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton holds a news conference at the end of a European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, January 23, 2012.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton holds a news conference at the end of a European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, January 23, 2012.
Gary Thomas

Western pressure on Iran over its nuclear program continues to mount. The European Union agreed Monday to impose an embargo on Iranian oil and freeze assets of the central bank. Iranian officials restated their threat to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of world oil supplies flow, in retaliation. Iran is also feeling pressure from a heightened campaign of covert action.

Covert warfare

A string of killings of people associated with Iran’s nuclear program, a series of unexplained explosions at Iranian military facilities, and introduction of a deadly computer virus are signs, analysts say, that the campaign of covert warfare against Iran has been ratcheted up.

Undated photo released by Iranian Fars News Agency, claims to show Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who they say was killed in a bomb blast in Tehran, Iran, January 11, 2012.
Undated photo released by Iranian Fars News Agency, claims to show Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who they say was killed in a bomb blast in Tehran, Iran, January 11, 2012.

In the most recent case, Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was killed Jan. 11 by a magnetic bomb attached to his car.

Reva Bhalla, Middle East analyst with the private intelligence firm Stratfor, says policymakers turn to covert action as a course between diplomacy and warfare.

"That’s when policymakers turn to that grey area of covert operations as a means to deal with the situation when you lack better options," said Bhalla. "And so the covert campaign is something that has been in the making for years now, and we’re seeing an intensification of it precisely because all of the United States and its allies are increasingly concerned with Iran’s rising and are looking for ways to limit it."

Three other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed over the past two years. No one has publicly claimed responsibility for the deaths.

But Iran has blamed the intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, and Israel. The United States categorically denied any involvement and Britain did not comment.

Israeli officials denied knowing who was involved in the killing, but one Israeli spokesman said he was not, as he put it, shedding tears about it.

Covert action is intended to influence events with a hidden hand.

Desperate measures

Usually carried out by a nation’s intelligence agencies, operations can range from trying to swing a foreign election to sabotage and assassination. But such are risky because of the possibility of public exposure.  

Will Tobey, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says whoever is carrying out the killings is willing take the risk.

"Well, I would say that anybody who was undertaking an assassination campaign against Iran had clearly reached a conclusion that matters were very serious and they were down to desperate measures," said Tobey. "That may point to increased danger in the near future."

Michael Eisenstadt, director of the military and security studies program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says Israel fits that description. He says Israel seeks to slow down Iran’s nuclear progress, even if it can’t stop it short of using military force.

"I don’t think that the Israelis look at covert action to halt Iran’s nuclear program," he said. "It didn’t work with the Iraqi program. And I think their experience with targeted killings has taught them that targeted killings don’t halt terrorism as well. But I think they seek incremental advantage by engaging in covert operations to buy time for sanctions to work because sanctions by their very nature are slow-acting."

Few analysts believe the covert action will deter Iran’s leaders from their nuclear ambitions.

Iran's games

Iranian-American Amir Mirza Hekmati, who has been sentenced to death by Iran's Revolutionary Court on the charge of spying for the CIA, speaks during a recorded interview in an undisclosed location, in this undated still image taken from video by Reuters
Iranian-American Amir Mirza Hekmati, who has been sentenced to death by Iran's Revolutionary Court on the charge of spying for the CIA, speaks during a recorded interview in an undisclosed location, in this undated still image taken from video by Reuters

But Iran has been engaging in its own spy games.

Late last year, the U.S. announced an Iranian plot had been uncovered to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, but many of the details are murky.

Iran has periodically arrested visitors and charged them with espionage, often to use them as bargaining chips.

Earlier this month, Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine was sentenced to death by an Iranian court on espionage charges.  His family and the U.S. government have denied the spying allegations.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid