The Islamic Republic of Iran is getting a dose of its own medicine.
While Iran’s diplomats last week jousted with the Six Powers in Geneva over its nuclear program, Tehran was doubly bedeviled by an economy driven perilously close bankruptcy by sanctions and a plague of terrorism and assassinations at home.
DEBKA Weekly’s Gulf and Tehran sources report that minority and dissident underground groups have sprung into coordinated armed action in different parts of the country in recent weeks. They are organized and funded by Saudi intelligence, which also draws on input from Israel, and are targeting high-ranking Iranian officials and Revolutionary Guards commanders involved in nuclear projects.
Not all the attacks are brought to the knowledge of the public. The exception was the most recent case Sunday, Nov. 10, when Deputy Industries, Mines and Trade Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Safdar Rahmatabadi, was shot dead in his car by one or two professional assassins.
The next day, the Tehran police claimed a suspect was in custody. A senior Iranian security official said his murder was not a terrorist or a politically-motivated act and the minister knew his assailant, a claim his brother flatly denied.
Saudis engineer minority unrest in four far-flung regions
But secrecy has been clamped down on a string of assassinations in recent weeks of middle-ranking Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officers. The two cases which came out nonetheless were presented as suicides, although both officers were brutally murdered at night in wooded areas.
The most prominent victim was Mojtaba Ahmadi, a key IRGC cyber war expert, who was discovered in a forest outside Karaj, a town 40 kilometers from Tehran.
Along with these hits, Iran’s restive minorities appear to be building up for armed revolt, especially in Sistan-Baluchistan, where last month, gunmen killed 14 Iranian army conscripts in an ambush on the Pakistan border, then murdered Moussa Nouri Qal’e Nov, the General Prosecutor of Zabol.
Fifteen Baluchi activists were hanged in reprisal.
Violent incidents are also breaking out in oil-rich Khuzestan, the Kurdish regions and the Azerbaijan border district.
On the face of it, these incidents, occurring as they do in four far-flung corners of Iran, do not seem connected. However, DEBKA Weekly’s exclusive sources report they are all part of a detailed blueprint for coordinated covert action drawn up by the secret services of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates and Israel.
Those sources reveal that Riyadh has earmarked $500 million for operations to stir up dissent among Iran’s ethnic minorities in order to harass the Iranian government into discontinuing its drive for a nuclear weapon or even causing its overthrow.
The Saudis have never before ventured to engage Iran directly. Now, they are fired up by the sight of the Obama administration getting together with the Islamic regime to engineer six-power recognition of Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
Iran retaliates with mass executions
Iran’s rulers are convinced that Israel is responsible for the new mood in Riyadh and is egging the Saudis on with offers to place its considerable experience and intelligence know-how at their disposal.
But in fact, the live wire behind the new, proactive Saudi policy is its director of general intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who decided it was time to bypass futile diplomacy and remove the gloves for direct action in Iran’s home court.
Tehran is reported by our Iranian sources to have decided to get its own back by responding in kind.
This happened when Tehran received intelligence that Baluchi guerrillas were being trained in a small village near the Pakistani Baluchi capital of Quetta by heavily bearded instructors clad in local garb. Suspecting those instructors were Saudi and Israeli agents in disguise, Tehran targeted that village for a commando raid to destroy the training camp and liquidate the disguised agents.
The latest round of Baluchi violence erupted after a year of inaction, following the execution of the Jundallah separatist leader Abdel-Malek Rigui.
The new group rising in its stead, called Jeysh-ol-Adl (Warriors of Justice), is held responsible for the ambush of Iranian troops and the murder of the Zabol prosecutor.
Guerilla training for Khuzestani and Kurdish activists
The Arab-speaking inhabitants of the southwestern province of Khuzestan, where Iran’s main oilfields are located, are in a constant state of ferment against Tehran. Of late, two underground groups are going about sabotaging oil and gas pipelines and petrochemical factories, while also assassinating government officials. They call themselves Mohayyeddin Al-Nasser and the Arabian Movement for the liberation of Al-Ahvaz. Both draw on assistance from Saudi Arabia and various Gulf clandestine services, especially the UAE.
Iran has homed in on Bahrain, where the Saudis are using their strong military presence to set up training camps for guerilla groups to conduct covert operations in Iran.
Upon completing their training, they are smuggled into Basra, southern Iraq to infiltrate Iran across the Shat Al Arb River.
Most are young Arabs from Khuzestan, dedicated to fighting for independence from Iranian rule.
Tehran has struck back with a campaign of cruel repression and put scores of young men to death on charges of terrorism.
Another large slice of Saudi funding is spent on training Kurdish guerrillas at facilities set up for the purpose in the Autonomous Kurdish Republic of northern Iraq outside Irbil. Some of the instructors there work for Israeli security firms employed in the republic.
In the Kurdish region of Iran, clashes have followed attacks by armed groups on Revolutionary Guards and security forces.
To teach the locals a lesson, a number of Kurdish activists were put to death. But this punishment had the reverse effect of stirring the populace into angry retribution.
Tehran ripe for popular dissent
There is yet another trouble spot on Iran’s northwestern border with Azerbaijan, where armed minority groups have taken to attacking regime targets. The last incident was a guerrilla attack from Azerbaijan on a minibus carrying schoolchildren near the border town of Jolfa.
Iran’s intelligence agencies believe that subversive action is being directed against Iran from Azerbaijan, where they say Israel has set up surveillance and eavesdropping bases as well as facilities for training guerilla forces for operations against the Iranian regime.
The attack on the minibus they believe may have been a training exercise.
Confidential reports on this upsurge of violence prepared by the IRGC’s intelligence unit and the National Security Council call for covert operations to deal with the troubles expeditiously. They fear Israel and Saudi Arabia are conspiring to force the IRGC to scatter its units across the country and dilute the protective ring around the central regime or order to make it easy prey for a popular uprising.
Circumstances in Tehran are ripe for trouble: Inflation is roaring, foreign currency reserves have sunk from $80 to 20 billion and the national coffers are bare. The capital’s population of 12 million has always been the core and touchstone of national anti-government dissent.