Two citizens of Azerbaijan have been arrested in connection with an alleged Iranian-backed plot to kill two Jewish educators and the Israeli ambassador in Baku, the capital, local media reported this week. Three men reportedly were charged with weapons smuggling as part of a plot to kill a teacher and a rabbi at the newly opened Chabad Or Avner Jewish school in Baku, as well as the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan, Michael Lotem. Two of those charged are reported to be in custody; one is still at large. It is alleged that Iranian intelligence agencies promised to pay the three men $150,000 to carry out the murders. The National Security Ministry said the men were connected to an Iranian citizen who had links with Iran's intelligence services. Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued a travel warning for Azerbaijan. The US embassy also issued a warning saying "the possibility remains for actions against US or other high-profile foreign interests in Azerbaijan."
Does it get any murkier than this? The conspirosphere is abuzz with claims aired in Foreign Policy magazine Jan. 13 that Mossad agents recruited militants from the Iranian terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as CIA agents in a "false flag" operation. Iran's Press TV and Pakistan's The Nation as well as stateside conspiranoids like Prison Planet and Antiwar.com have jumped all over it. But, predictably, the actual original report is fuzzy on the details and raises more questions than it answers. Here's the salient passage:
In what Iran called a "terrorist act," nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was killed when an unidentified motorcyclist attached a magnetic explosive to his car Jan. 10. Rosha was a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. He is the third man identified as a nuclear scientist to be killed in Iran in a mysterious explosion in the past two years. A fourth survived an assassination attempt. The survivor, Fereydoon Abbasi, is now the head Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. In a statement quoted by Reuters, the organization said: "America and Israel's heinous act will not change the course of the Iranian nation." Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
It would certainly be an irony if the US "withdrawal" from Iraq (which really isn't, with hundreds of military advisors and thousands of private contractors staying behind, and the Pentagon set to augment its troop presence in the Gulf region) only wound up sparking a US military confrontation with Iran. There are growing signs of fear of Iranian power over Iraq, and of a backlash from Sunnis and secularists. On Dec. 27, three leading members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition had an op-ed in the New York Times, "How to Save Iraq From Civil War." The writers are Iraqiya leader and ex-prime minister Ayad Allawi (actually a Shi'ite but an ex-Baathist); parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi; and finance minister Rafe al-Essawi. They appeal to Washington to pressure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stop hoarding power in violation of power-sharing agreements, and are quick to play the Iran card. They charge: "Maliki is welcoming into the political process the Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, whose leaders kidnapped and killed five American soldiers and murdered four British hostages in 2007."
Iranian labor activist Reza Shahabi has begun a prison hunger strike in protest of his undetermined judicial status. The Vahed Company Workers Union website reports that Shahabi has been detained for more than 15 months, and so far the authorities have kept his case in limbo. Shahabi is reportedly suffering from grave ailments in his spine and kidneys. The Jaras opposition website reports that Shahabi’s absence has put his wife and children in financial difficulty, and all their efforts to follow up on his case with the authorities have failed.
A blast at Iran's Alghadir missile base at Bid Ganeh—so powerful it rattled windows 30 miles away in Tehran—has raised speculation about Israeli covert action against the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Seventeen of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps were killed, among them a man described as the "architect" of the country's missile program, Maj. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, reported to have been trained in ballistic science by China and North Korea. Mostafa Izadi, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander, and a close friend, said in his obituary: "Since 1984 he pioneered the IRGC's ground-to-ground missile system...the work which has so frightened the world's imperialist powers and the Zionist regime today."
Oil prices rose Nov. 6 to $95 a barrel, a more than seven-week peak, on heightened concerns about Iran's nuclear program and rumors of impending Israeli military strikes on the Islamic Republic. The tensions come as the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report finding that Iran is capable of developing a nuclear weapon, although stopping short of saying it intends to do so. (Reuters, WP, Nov. 7) Days earlier, Israel successfully tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The Jericho 3 missile, fired from Palmahim air force base, was seen by tens of thousands of Israelis. Many called the emergency services and radio stations in panic, believing it was an incoming missile. Defense minister Ehud Barak said: "This is an impressive technological achievement and an important step in Israel's progress in the missile and space field." (Irish Times, Nov. 3)
The US Justice Department on Oct. 11 announced charges against two men allegedly working for "factions of the Iranian government" with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, and to attack Saudi embassies. The indictment, unsealed in federal court in Manhattan, identified the two as Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American car dealer in Corpus Christi, Tex., and Gholam Shakuri, described as Arbabsiar's cousin. Attorney General Eric Holder said Arbabsiar, who was arrested on Sept. 29 in New York, was working for Iran's Revolutionary Guard and had confessed to the plot. Shakuri, who is based in Iran, remains at large, Holder said. He allegedly is a member of the Quds Force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard. Holder said the case started when Arbabsiar made contact with an undercover DEA informant in Mexico and asked for assistance from Los Zetas drug cartel to assassinate the ambassador by blowing up a restaurant that he frequented. Arbabsiar allegedly wired $100,000 to the informant as a down payment on a $1.5 million assassination fee. (InSight Crime, Oct. 12; Associated Press of Pakistan, Oct. 11)