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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid