Over the past few years I’ve written quite a bit on the different intelligence operations that have made their way into newsprint – particularly those that have occurred in the Middle East. The reason for covering these events relates to Iran’s nuclear program and the lack of any good military or diplomatic options for ending the threat. The option of using covert methods to undermine Iran are the next best avenue. In the recent past here at IHS, we have covered the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists on the one hand and the use of proxy militants by Tehran on the other. It is with this in mind that we address two events that occurred this past weekend.
A military base belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary guards suffered a large explosion this past Saturday killing 17 and wounding many others. Reports indicate that the blast was so large it was felt in Tehran some 25 miles away. Among those killed in the blast was Major General Hassan Moqqadam, a Guards commander that was a vital player in Iran’s indigenous missile development. For their part, the Iranians stated that the explosion resulted from an accident that occurred while transferring conventional explosives. That being said, however, reports in the Israeli press have speculated that their intelligence service was behind the blast. Whether this is accurate doesn’t really matter as it serves Israel’s interests either way. Keep in mind that Israel is not the only nation with on the ground intelligence operating in Iran. A recent report on the Iranian nuclear program from the IAEA cited information from 10 separate western intelligence agencies. Of course, the Arab nations have just as much to lose, if not more than, Israel if Iran gets the bomb. These nations having a hand in fighting Iran clandestinely cannot be discounted either.
The Arab involvement brings us to the second event. On Saturday, Bahraini officials claimed to have disrupted a terrorist plot by Iranian intelligence designed to undermine the Sunni regime in the Shiite majority island in the midst of popular unrest. It is certainly likely that this is an attempt by the Bahraini regime to overstate a threat by Iran and respond by dealing harshly with the protesters in Manama, but we cannot discount the claim either. Remember, just a few weeks ago the U.S. accused the Iranians of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. on American soil. Iran has engaged in such activities in the past and its connections to regional militant groups is well established. To add further context to this event, the U.S. has suspended arms sales to Bahrain pending an investigation into alleged human rights abuses during the recent uprising. If Bahrain can show that the Iranian threat is more profound on the Island, and by extension to the U.S. Fifth Fleet stationed there, Washington may be persuaded to follow through with the military sales.
As could reasonably be expected, there is a lot of ambiguity in these two events. Such is the nature of intelligence. It is the context of these events that must be considered as each nation in the region has far too much to lose in this fight for regional supremacy. As Iran gets closer to nuclear breakout, and as the push to expand their regional influence increases in intensity, we can expect these types of events to occur more frequently. In fact, Iran is claiming the death of a prominent politician’s son in Dubai this weekend was the work of an assassin. The assassinations, the sabotage, the proxy wars of the past few years are just the beginning of a Cold War that is rapidly gripping one of the most unstable regions on earth.