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Another Step in the U.S.-Iranian Covert War

The diplomatic row over the Iranian seizure of 15 British servicemen and marines entered its fourth day Monday, with Iran saying the Britons are "fit and well" and being held at a secret location until the Iranians can determine through interrogation whether their alleged entry into Iranian waters was intentional.

The U.S. and British governments say the British personnel were intercepted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) naval forces March 23 after completing a search of a civilian vessel on the Iraqi side of the 120-mile Shatt al-Arab waterway leading to the Persian Gulf. The Iranian government, however, says the British servicemen admitted to illegally entering Iranian territory, and that it has the satellite tracking images to prove the "blatant aggression into Iranian territorial waters."

Iran has a track record of stirring up diplomatic spats in the oil-rich Persian Gulf in order to reassert its political and military relevance, as it did in June 2004 when it seized three British patrol boats in the Shatt al-Arab. At that time, the Iranian nuclear controversy was gaining steam as Washington attempted to transfer the issue to the U.N. Security Council while building a new government in Baghdad without consulting Iran.

This latest incident occurred a day ahead of the widely expected unanimous U.N. Security Council vote to tighten sanctions against Iran. Included in the resolution is a clause freezing the assets of 28 people and organizations ostensibly involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs. Many of them belong to the elite IRGC and Quds Force (a paramilitary arm of the IRGC), which have been heavily involved in fueling the Iraq insurgency. The IRGC is evidently displeased with the financial hit, as well as the January seizure of five Iranians -- including IRGC and Quds Force members -- in a U.S. raid in Arbil. IRGC weekly newspaper Subhi Sadek expressed this outrage, saying the IRGC has "the ability to capture a bunch of blue-eyed, blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks."

There are a number of reasons behind the IRGC's recent seizure of the British servicemen, but there could be more to this diplomatic row than is apparent.

While Iran and the United States have kept the media busy with diplomatic maneuverings over Iraq and threats linked to the Iranian nuclear program, Iran has been entangled in an intense covert intelligence war with the West. As part of this fight, the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist by Israel's Mossad was met a few weeks later -- as expected -- with a retaliatory strike in Paris against David Dahan, head of the Israeli Defense Ministry Mission to Europe. Though Dahan's death was treated as a suicide, intelligence suggests Dahan was singled out by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in a tit-for-tat strike.

Several weeks ago, Ali Reza Asghari, a former Iranian deputy defense minister and Pasdaran commander defected while traveling in Turkey and was turned over to the U.S. government. Asghari is undoubtedly a valuable asset for Western intelligence agencies, who likely hope to use him to dissect the Iranian defense establishment -- representing a significant threat to Iran's national security. In the course of Asghari's debriefing, he undoubtedly was grilled on his knowledge of any suspected U.S. agents operating in Iran in order to determine if any agents have been or are close to being exposed by Iranian security agencies.

With this in mind, there have been recent indications from U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources that the British MI6 was engaged in an operation to extract one of its agents from Iran, but a leak tipped MOIS off to the plan. According to an unconfirmed source, the IRGC nabbed the British personnel, as well as the agent, to use as a bargaining chip in order to secure the release of the five detained Iranians. If these negotiations go poorly for Iran, the Britons could very well be tried for espionage.

The motive behind the seizure of the British servicemen is still unclear, but the operation likely was planned well in advance by key figures within the IRGC. At this point, the Iranians are watching their backs closely, and are willing to take the political risk of flaring up another diplomatic dispute in order to plug further intelligence leaks.
Texto pirateado de um think-tank americano.

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De Cartas de Londres a 27.03.2007 às 18:58

"Texto pirateado de um think-tank americano."

Caro HB,
e o Think Tank (sem tracinhos) não deveria estar correctamente identificado?
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De Henrique Burnay a 27.03.2007 às 23:28

Caro Cartas, devia. Mas na altura em que gamei o texto esqueci-me de o fazer, e agora tenho de o ir procurar. E se continuo a contar a história os gajos ainda me processam, justificadamente.
Amanhã trato disso. Da identificação, não do processo.
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De Henrique Burnay a 28.03.2007 às 10:42

Afinal estava semi-descoberto. mas cá vai:
http://www.stratfor.com/index.php

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