By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin*
It turns out Iran’s intelligence services aren’t so intelligent after all. After a series of mortifying failures, Hossein Taeb — Iran’s “untouchable” spy chief, with close ties to the supreme leader — has been summarily thrown overboard.
This was a man who enjoyed immense power and unimaginable resources, and was responsible for crushing domestic dissent and eliminating threats and irritants overseas.
Taeb climbed to the top of Iran’s greasy pole in 2009 through playing a prominent role in the mass killing and torture of protesters. In recent days the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps lauded such atrocities as great accomplishments.
Taeb was exposed as comically incompetent when Israeli agents assassinated at least seven nuclear scientists and intelligence officials in the past two months. Attackers struck deep inside some of Iran’s most secret locations; they came out of nowhere then simply melted away, giving rise to confused reports in the Iranian media about killer robots, suicide drones, masked assassins and self-firing machineguns. Some of these sabotage operations were overseen from neighboring Azerbaijan and Iraqi Kurdistan. Those coordinating the strikes succeeded in recruiting significant numbers of Iranians with the necessary skills and connections, probably including employees at these sites, and even carried out two attacks on the flagship Natanz nuclear plant.
The rot goes all the way to the top: Gen Ali Nasiri, a senior Guards commander, was arrested for spying for Israel, and several dozen employees from the Ministry of Defense’s missile development program are thought to have been detained on suspicion of leaking classified military information, including missile blueprints, to Israel.
Ayoob Entezari, an aerospace engineer, was fatally poisoned at a dinner party. The event’s host hasn’t been seen since. Entezari’s “martyrdom” was first denounced as an act of “biological terror,” before the Iranian media suddenly changed its story — denying foul play, or even that Entezari held a sensitive role, in a transparent attempt to hide how badly the intelligence agencies had bungled. Again!
Hardly a week goes by without reports of mysterious explosions, assassinations, and hacking of critical infrastructure. Last week three Iranian steel factories, major suppliers to the Guards, were hit by a cyberattack.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gloated about his “octopus doctrine” — instead of focusing on the tentacles, he goes “straight for the head.” Unfortunately, although these attacks are shattering the regime’s morale, they are mere pinpricks. If Israel wants to halt Iran’s nuclear program and its transnational paramilitary armies, full-on decapitation is required.
In the meantime, this demented octopus has flailed about, wildly threatening revenge but rarely delivering. Remember all the promises to unleash “divine vengeance” for the 2020 killing of Qassim Soleimani and Abu-Mahdi Al-Muhandis? Or to avenge the assassination of nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?
Taeb sought retribution for the killing of Col. Sayad Khodaei, deputy commander of a covert Guards assassinations unit, by sending his goons to Turkey to kill Israeli diplomats and tourists. However, Israel tipped off Ankara and the conspiracy was thwarted. Similar operations appear to have been planned in Egypt. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that Ankara would not tolerate terror attacks on its soil, an indication of how such botched operations are pulling Turkey closer into the coalescing alliance of anti-Iran states.
Entrenched Iranian positions and outlandish new demands are derailing the revival of the Iran nuclear deal. Neither side holds out much hope for success, but they fear the consequences of admitting that talks have failed.
Nevertheless, American officials asserted that Iran had been severely discountenanced by prospects of a regional defense pact. Israel has acquiesced to the supply of sophisticated air defense systems, radars, and cyber technology to new allies, the US is encouraging Egypt and Jordan to deepen security ties with Israel, and there is the game-changing prospect that Israel and Saudi Arabia could be part of such an alliance.
Such nervousness is certainly motivating Tehran’s recent outreach to Riyadh. Saudi officials are right to not trust a word they hear, stressing that they need to see de-escalatory actions, not empty words. Perhaps the Iranian president’s recent voicing of support for a ceasefire in Yemen is a move in this direction.
Lack of progress is spurring Iran to apply pressure elsewhere, including efforts to take over the government in Iraq, and an incident in which Israel shot down three Hezbollah drones near an Israeli gas rig in an area of sea claimed by Lebanon.
“The region is changing, alliances are changing… These are serious threats that need to be thwarted,” one senior Iranian official nervously told Reuters. However, another one commented: “Our nuclear program is advancing every day. Time is on our side.”
The Revolutionary Guards probably don’t want a revived nuclear deal. The paradoxical impact of sanctions has been that most oil is smuggled out via their vast economic conglomerates, and as the price soars they are making a killing. Their revenues now mostly come from outside the official government budget, something that wouldn’t be tenable if the deal were revived — hence the deliberately obstructive demand that sanctions be lifted from the the Guards’ economic empire, Khatam Al-Anbiya.
Iran meanwhile is disintegrating from the inside. Last month there were major anti-government protests and strikes throughout the country. Pensioners have been demonstrating over the wiping out of their pensions by runaway inflation, the result of incompetent regime policies. The currency plunged 25 percent in four months.
The Islamic Republic is its own worst enemy. The most likely prospect for slaying this dragon is collapse from within: Iranians hate this regime and much of the country is a patchwork of oppressed minorities who sooner or later will unite to oust the detested ayatollahs.
Regional powers are right to put their energies into a defensive alliance to counter Iranian expansionism; the only regret is that this didn’t happen 40 years ago.
However, the most fertile avenue for ending such maleficence is for a focused campaign within Iran itself, capitalizing on the ayatollahs’ incompetence, misgovernance and unpopularity.
The Islamic Republic is a time bomb waiting to implode through the accumulation of its own failures. Never has there been a better time for regional powers to light the fuse and put an end to this evil once and for all.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.