Iran claims to bust network of Israeli spies planning ‘sabotage, terrorist ops’

Tehran says agents who crossed into country from Kurdistan region were captured with state-of-the-art equipment

Iranians walk down a street in the capital Tehran on December 28, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iranians walk down a street in the capital Tehran on December 28, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran claimed Saturday to have stopped an Israeli spy network, arresting agents who had entered the Islamic republic to carry out attacks against “sensitive” sites.

The Islamic Republic’s official IRNA news agency said the agents, who were in contact with Israel’s Mossad spy agency, had entered the country from northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region for the purpose of carrying out sabotage and “terrorist operations” with the help of state-of-the-art technology.

“All of them were captured,” it said, “and their weapons, explosives, technical and communications equipment were entirely discovered and confiscated.”

The statement did not say how many suspects were arrested or give their nationalities, nor did it identify the targets of the purported plots.

Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the United States and Israel, though it does not provide evidence to back up such claims.

Last month, The New York Times reported that a senior general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was secretly arrested for allegedly spying for Israel.

Citing officials with close ties to the IRGC speaking on condition of anonymity, the report said the arrest of Brig.-Gen. Ali Nasiri marked a growing level of distrust among the country’s senior leadership partly attributed to Israel’s alleged recent operations in the country.

Nasiri served as a senior commander in the IRGC Protection of Information Unit, The New York Times reported.

His arrest came about two months after a few dozen security officials involved in Iran’s missile program were arrested for allegedly leaking classified information to Israel, the newspaper said.

Reportedly arrested sometime in early June, Nasiri’s arrest came shortly before the replacement of the IRGC’s intelligence chief Hossein Taeb.

Taeb, who held the position for more than 12 years, had been tasked with exposing Israel’s spy network in Iran, an unnamed adviser to the Iranian government and an individual affiliated with the IRGC both told the Times.

Hossein Taeb, former head of the intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), looks on during a meeting in Tehran on June 24, 2018. (Hamed Malekpour/Tasnim News/AFP)

Taeb’s downfall is seen by some as a prime example of the long-running campaign by Israel to expose failures by the IRGC by allegedly stepping up attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities in recent months and targeting high-level officials inside Iranian territory — all meant to generate conflict between the political and defense establishments in Iran, Israeli officials told the newspaper.

The Times reported that Taeb had “seemed untouchable” before a number of recent high-profile killings blamed on Israel and before the apparently foiled Iranian plan to attack Israelis in Turkey.

Israeli intelligence officials who requested anonymity told the newspaper that the thwarting by Israeli and Turkish security forces of the plot had proved the final straw for officials, who abruptly removed Taeb from his position.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war but tensions have ratcheted up following a string of high-profile incidents Tehran has blamed on Jerusalem.

A number of members of the IRGC and scientists have been killed in recent months, with Iran often pointing the finger at Israel.

Iran reportedly suspects Israel killed two Iranian scientists by poisoning their food. The details of the men’s work, the circumstances of their deaths and their ties to the government remain unclear.

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