Iran’s intelligence ministry said Tuesday that it apprehended two cells linked to Israel’s Mossad spy agency that were operating in the country, local media reported.
According to a statement cited by several Iranian news outlets, the network included 23 members, which were all identified, including 13 who were operating in Iran and were detained.
The ministry said they were detained in the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd, West Azarbaijan, and Golestan.
Reports said equipment was found in the possession of the detainees and was seized, without elaborating further on what items were found.
Tehran identified one operative as “Sirous,” described in the report as the primary liaison to the network in Iran. The ministry said he was based in an unspecified European country and would contact the agents through social media platforms, specifically Instagram and WhatsApp.
The report cited the Iranian intelligence ministry as accusing the Mossad of trying to “exploit” the nationwide protests that have swept the country since mid-September in order to murder a military official, carry out sabotage operations in major Iranian cities and smuggle explosives into the country.
Iran makes claims of busting Mossad spy rings from time to time. The veracity of such claims is unclear.
Last month, Iran’s intelligence ministry said it had arrested four such cells that were planning terror attacks across the country.
A statement issued by the ministry said that “relentless efforts” led to the arrest of all operatives before they could carry out their assaults. Reports did not specify how many people in total were detained.
The ministry also said at the time that it had information about a Mossad “ringleader” in Europe and that it would release their name in the near future. It was unclear if the suspect was the same as the so-called operative “Sirous.”
A week before that alleged bust, Iran also claimed to have foiled a Mossad operation to target its defense industry.
Iran has been violently squelching protests that erupted throughout the country after the September death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of morality police. Hundreds of people have been killed, including members of the security forces, and over 10,000 arrested. Several protesters have been executed.
Tehran has accused the United States and Israel of planning what it refers to as “riots.” In October, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the protests as a foreign plot to destabilize the Islamic Republic.
At an event for Mossad employees held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem last month, Mossad head David Barnea said the agency was “still warning about Iran’s future and intentions, which it is trying to keep secret,” adding that Iran was working to “deepen and expand the supply of advanced weapons to Russia.”
Tehran and Jerusalem have long accused each other of espionage activities and plots to sabotage critical infrastructure, part of a lengthy shadow war between the arch-foes.
Israel views Iran as its greatest threat and has repeatedly threatened to take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran denies seeking such weapons and has vowed a harsh response to any Israeli aggression.
In January 2022, Israel said it had broken up an Iranian spy ring that recruited Israeli women via social media to photograph sensitive sites, gather intelligence and encourage their sons to join Israeli military intelligence.
In early December, Iran executed four people accused of working for the Mossad, while three others received lengthy prison sentences.