ANALYSIS: Could covert operations be reinstated against Iran?

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
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When it comes to covert operations against Iran, various options have been explored and employed over the decades, to assist in thwarting Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

While many within the US administration feel that acts of sabotage against Iran’s nuclear program are feasible, there are others that are still very much against such action, feeling that any form of military intervention could quite easily get out of hand.

Many on the opposing side feel that the people themselves will eventually bring down the regime, and the US could aid them through information warfare. They feel that the consequences of any form of covert action could force Iran to retaliate, most likely in the form of missile attacks on its neighbors, or attempts to close off the Straits of Hormuz, through a series of asymmetric attacks, bringing severe instability to the Middle East and beyond.

Such attacks were likely to come in the form of harassing the constant flow of shipping that passes through the busy sea-lane, using fast attack boats, or mining the waterway, which is a vital shipping lane for both cargo and oil, heading either East or West.

But those who are in favor of such actions, point to the fact that although there is severe disruption on the streets of Iran over the country’s economy, the Iranian administration has been here before, and has always managed to survive through violent crackdowns. They feel that with the regime already in a desperate state, now is the time to destabilize it even further.

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With Donald Trump determined to strangle Iran’s economy through even more stringent economic sanctions, a program of covert action, played out under a cloak of plausible deniability, could be the final straw in bringing about regime change, ending its nuclear program once and for all.

In the past, military strikes have been considered against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but with the regime having been threatened with such an attack numerous times over the years, it has made great efforts to shore up its defenses against one.

Having already witnessed Israel pre-emptively bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, with Saddam later carrying out airstrikes against Iran’s own reactor at Bushehr during the Iran/Iraq War, and then Israel bombing Syria’s nuclear reactor near Deir al-Zor in 2007, the Iranian administration is now fully prepared for such an attack.

With the IRGC in charge of Iran’s nuclear program, it has supervised the construction of many secret underground facilities within its nuclear program, some of which have been uncovered by the Iranian opposition group the MEK.

With the regime having also installed S-300 air defence systems supplied by Russia, capable of targeting aircraft at high altitude from up to a 150-mile range, it allows them to create a formidable ring of defence around suspected targets. Hence any attack against such facilities would end with a substantial loss of aircraft, and a massive nuclear fallout affecting the whole of the Middle East.

Before the final implementation of the Iran Deal, various acts of sabotage and subversion had been carried out within Iran.

Many foreign intelligence sources believing that the Israeli secret service Mossad had been working hand-in-fist with certain elements of the CIA and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) to bring an end to Iran’s nuclear program through wide-ranging methods of disruption.

Over a long period, various forms of sabotage have been brought into play one of which was to acquire valuable assets working inside certain sensitive underground military facilities, to aid in a program of disruption to slow down Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons.

As well as those working within the Iranian nuclear industry, those involved in this program of sabotage, were said to have also been seeking high value assets connected to various European companies, which were either supplying or working within the Iranian nuclear sector.

From these valuable sources, the operators involved in the disruption were said to have “bought” useful photographs, confidential material and lists of nuclear experts, connected to nuclear or missile test sites run by the IRGC. Such was the local mujahedeen’s capability; they also managed to put together teams that were able to carry out acts of sabotage within the facilities themselves.

With the CIA’s spy networks having been closed down by the Iranians in 2011, which had resulted in dozens of American-linked spies being rounded up, Mossad was the only Western-friendly secret service agency able to operate in Iran.

Unidentified IAEA inspectors seal after disconnecting the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear power plant of Natanz on January, 20, 2014. (AFP)
Unidentified IAEA inspectors seal after disconnecting the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear power plant of Natanz on January, 20, 2014. (AFP)

While outside observers have long believed that Mossad has set up a well-established sleeper cell network throughout the country, with its elite Kidon operatives said to have been working hard to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, the operatives concerned had become very effective. But as far as involvement in these activities are concerned, Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement.

The scale of disruption taking place was enormous, not only were these operatives using Iranian double-agents, who were able to move freely from one area to the next, its own agents had also set up a series of front companies within Iran, all of which were connected to various government departments, enabling Mossad agents to carry out various forms of sabotage with great ease.

The Kidon teams were also said to have used hit squads located in all areas across Iran, who were successfully carrying out a program of “decapitation” to disrupt the regime’s illicit weapons project, by assassinating leading players in the industry, such as scientists connected to nuclear research, and top advisers in the military.

A variety of methods were being used to carry out these hits, from bullets to the head, drugs to mimic heart attacks, magnetic explosives attached to a targets’ car, plane crashes of important personnel connected to the nuclear industry or the security apparatus, and even poison gas.

By carrying out various types of covert attacks on Iranian territory, the Israeli secret service hoped it would result in the disruption of Iran’s nuclear program, and by doing so, would slow the progress of its boffins in building a nuclear weapon, until another more permanent solution to the problem could be found.

Sabotaging equipment

But it wasn’t just assassinations being carried out, the disruption also included sabotaging various equipment being supplied to nuclear installations, and during one such operation, transformers had been doctored to explode at the main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz central Iran, which was just one of many explosions, all of which had taken place at various nuclear facilities across the country.

Bribes were also being paid to suppliers of various components and machine parts, coercing them to supply defective equipment, which would ensure that vital machinery was certain to malfunction, and attempts had also been made to disrupt electricity supplies.

At one point, a deadly blast that had cost the lives of at least four employees, and injured 20 more, had taken place at the inauguration of an oil refinery by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of a number of attacks that had been laid at the door of Mossad by foreign observers.

In the oil refinery incident, a piece of machinery situated close to where the president was about to make a speech, had spectacularly exploded, and although Iranian officials tried to pass it off as an industrial accident, with this coming in the wake of a series of other unexplained “accidents”, explosions and assassinations, Western spy agencies were convinced that this incident was an attempt to assassinate President Ahmadinejad.

Whether this was an attempted assassination is open for conjecture, but if it was, it certainly shows how biding time for the right opportunity, certainly pays dividends. With the way things are going on the streets in Iran, with thousands of people now demonstrating, and so many calling out “Death to the Dictator”, the time is ripe to organize a fight back against the regime, and put together a coordinated opposition in the form of a network of guerrilla groups, willing to carry out covert attacks against government and military facilities.

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With the Iranian regime being as ruthless as it is, with demonstrations becoming larger by the day, should it reach the point where the regime members feel they are in serious danger of being overthrown they will have no qualms about committing heinous atrocities against demonstrators to prevent this. With such a scenario likely soon, some within the US administration are calling for protestors to be armed.

For this to be effective, covert operators already working within Iran would need to identify and contact all dissidents known to be proficient in the use of small arms, and through them, create a series of armed units with the ability to engage in urban warfare, hit-and-run ambushes against military convoys on isolated roads, and the destruction of rail lines using explosive devices.

But for such operations to be successful, supply networks would need to be set up, and the perfect way to turn Iran’s own covert methods of warfare against its own troops, is through using the same form of asymmetric tactics Hezbollah used so effectively against the Israelis during the 2006 Lebanon War.

But standing back, continuing to witness the Iranian regime committing atrocities against its people is no longer an option, as with the regime being at their most dangerous, the rest of the world will soon be feeling the bite of their fight back.

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