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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid