Iran said Tuesday it had arrested an armed cell working for Israel’s Mossad spy agency that was planning to use a cache of weapons to provoke violence during protests in the country.
Iran, which often blames Israel and the United States for internal unrest, has seen growing demonstrations in recent weeks over water shortages in the southwestern of the country.
Tehran did not clarify how many people were arrested, or their nationalities, but said they were detained on the country’s western border — Iran borders Turkey and Iraq to the west. It was unclear when the group was detained.
According to a report by the Mehr news agency, a large haul of weaponry was seized, including pistols, grenades, rifles, shotguns and ammunition.
A video released by Iranian state TV’s website showed a number of weapons and grenades including AK-47s and pistols stacked in the back of a white SUV.
“Some of these are used to provoke clashes during protests,” an Iranian official told state media, according to the Reuters news agency.
Iran arrests Mossad agents plotting urban riots, terror; huge cache of weapons seized
— Press TV (@PressTV) July 27, 2021
An unnamed official from the Intelligence Ministry told Mehr that the alleged agents for Israel intended to use the weaponry during “urban riots and assassinations.”
The official additionally claimed that Israel attempted to carry out acts of sabotage during the country’s recent elections, but those attacks were thwarted.
משרד ההגנה האיראני: "עצרנו משלוח נשק גדול של המוסד והמעצרים בוצעו אחרי ש'הסוכנים' חצו את גבולות המדינה. הנשק שנתפס לטענת האיראנים – רובים, אקדחים ורימונים ל'יצירת מהומות'"@AmichaiStein1 pic.twitter.com/UJkCdLXdIz
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) July 27, 2021
Iran occasionally arrests and convicts people it accuses of spying on behalf of foreign countries, particularly the US and Israel. Iran has also blamed Mossad and Israel for a number of attacks on its nuclear facilities and scientists.
The announcement of the arrest of the alleged cell came after at least five people were killed in recent days amid protests over the water shortage affecting Iran’s Khuzestan province, an oil-rich, restive area of the country.
Activists say the death toll is higher.
Iran has faced rolling blackouts for weeks now, in part over what authorities describe as a severe drought. Precipitation had decreased by almost 50 percent in the last year, leaving dams with dwindling water supplies.
The protests in Khuzestan come as Iran struggles through repeated surges of infections in the coronavirus pandemic and as thousands of workers in its oil industry have launched strikes for better wages and conditions.
Iran’s economy also has struggled under US sanctions since then-president Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, crashing the value of the Islamic Republic’s currency, the rial.
The protests have spread to Tehran, and were mostly peaceful on Monday, though several demonstrators shouted, “Death to the Dictator!”
Additionally, western Iran has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists as well as terrorists linked to the Islamic State group.
Agencies contributed to this report.