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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid