When, in the wake of last week's killing of an Iranian scientist, Iranian officials blamed Israel and America, I assumed they were just making up the part about America. Denials issued by Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Panetta were emphatic and convincing.
But now Iran has gone beyond the usual vague references to a Zionist-American plot. Its foreign ministry has sent a letter to the U.S. claiming to have evidence of CIA involvement. Is it possible that the Iranians actually have such evidence?
It's possible they have what they think is such evidence. That's the weird prospect raised by a much-discussed story published on Foreign Policy magazine's website Friday by Mark Perry.
Perry's story is about Jundallah, a shadowy group that is based in Pakistan but operates within Iran. Designated a terrorist group by the United States, Jundallah is thought to have killed hundreds of Iranians as part of what it says is a fight for the rights of Sunnis in Iran.
Perry reports two things: (1) Agents for the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, have recruited Jundallah members to help with covert operations against Iran; (2) In approaching those Jundallah members, Mossad agents claimed to be CIA agents. In other words, there may be Jundallah operatives conducting covert operations against Iran who mistakenly think they're working for the CIA. And if the Iranian government wound up interrogating one of them, it could thus obtain "evidence" of US involvement.
Though Jundallah has conducted assassinations within Iran, they haven't had the level of sophistication of the recent assassinations of Iranian scientists. Experts I contacted deemed it unlikely that these recent killings would have been outsourced to Jundallah by Israel. But, as one of these experts pointed out, that doesn't mean Mossad recruits from Jundallah, conveniently positioned inside Iran, couldn't have provided logistical support. Moreover, as Jim Lobe observes, there are other anti-regime Iranian groups that Israel could be harnessing, also under the pretense of American sponsorship.
Yesterday the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an anonymous Israeli official denying Perry's story. But the story has the feel of a pretty richly sourced piece of reporting.
What it doesn't address is why Mossad agents would have done this--impersonate CIA agents, complete with fake passports. Maybe it's easier to recruit Muslim operatives if you're American than if you're Israeli?
In any event, this "false flag" operation could help explain why for years Iran has accused America of supporting Jundallah even as America has denied the charge. (Perry's evidence comes from 2007-08, but since the Bush administration, having discovered what Israel was up to, apparently didn't file a protest, the practice presumably continued.) And, whether or not creating this Iranian confusion was an Israeli goal, Israel probably doesn't mind the attendant heightening of tensions between America and a country it considers a mortal enemy.
But now Perry's story could heighten tensions between America and Israel. The story quotes retired Gen. Joe Hoar, former commander of Centcom, saying that "false flag" operations can be "extremely dangerous. You're basically using your friendship with an ally for your own purposes. Israel is playing with fire. It gets us involved in their covert war, whether we want to be involved or not."
And Perry quotes the U.S. intelligence official who first leaked the story to him saying that Israel is "supposed to be a strategic asset. Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, who just don't think that's true."
Heightening Israeli-American tensions wouldn't be the only ironic result of the false flag operation. Iran's conviction that America supports Jundallah has no doubt deepened the regime's sense of siege, presumably strengthening those in the government who argue for building a nuclear bomb in order to deter an American attack. And the point of this whole Israeli exercise was supposed to be to reduce the chances of Iran winding up with a nuclear bomb.
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