In a rare admission an Israeli intelligence chief confirmed early this week that Israel has spies currently operating on the ground in Iran.
Yossi Cohen, the director of Israel's Mossad - the country's powerful national intelligence and special operations agency, addressed Israeli policy and the recent Iran protests at a closed session of the Finance Ministry on Tuesday. In the midst of a talk assessing the "Iran threat" to Israeli security Cohen bluntly stated, “We have eyes and ears, even inside Iran.”
This stunning confirmation from Israel's top intelligence official came the same day Iran's supreme leader lashed out at the country's foreign enemies, saying according a Reuters summary of his statements that "Iran has foiled attempts by its foreign enemies to turn legitimate protests into an insurgency to overthrow the Islamic Republic." The thrust of Cohen's speech, according to Arutz Sheva news, warned of increased Iranian hegemonic ambition across the region as Tehran is "gaining footholds across the Middle East," which Israeli defense officials as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have long identified the chief threat to regional stability and Israel's security, even above the threat of ISIS.
"The Iranians are spreading across the Middle East with a vast array of forces, and there is little holding them back," said Cohen. Iran has very nearly realized "its dream of creating what almost amounts to a land and air bridge allowing them to dump troops across the Middle East." But as we reported in November of last year, this "land bridge" has already become a reality as the rapid demise of the Islamic State resulted in the anticipated linking up of Iraqi and Syrian troops at the shared border, along with their Shia paramilitary allies (foremost, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units/PMU and Lebanese Hezbollah, the prime ground ally of the Syrian Army).
Both Israel and Washington's past decade of Iran and Syria policy has been driven by fears of this so-called "Shia crescent" or Iranian land bridge which would conceivably connect Tehran with the Mediterranean in a continuous arch of influence (Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut). More recently Israeli and US officials have spotlighted claims that Iran is intervening in both Yemen and Lebanon against Saudi Arabia and Israel - both unlikely allies who've lately acknowledged an intelligence sharing relationship aimed at rolling back Iranian influence.
"I don't think there's a land bridge right now" in Syria, Mattis - Sec. or Def. said.— Joshua Landis (@joshua_landis) January 9, 2018
Iran has failed to establish a "land bridge" across Syria as part of an overall effort to create a "Shiite crescent" Matts says.
Are we looking at the same map?https://t.co/HKVJOXEGce pic.twitter.com/5j1KdNAw56
And with the onset of mass anti-regime protests in Iran two weeks ago (initially driven by economic grievances), which have since ceased as both security forces cracked down and demonstrators' momentum generally waned, many analysts have speculated on the degree to which outside intelligence services may have covertly intervened to steer to protests toward Tehran regime overthrow - an accusation which the Iranian authorities have explicitly and repeatedly made.
During the Israeli national security talk, Cohen acknowledged Israeli intelligence's long term desire to see regime change in Iran, saying "We don’t need to start speculating, even though I would, of course, be very happy to see a social revolution in Iran. That’s something that could perhaps happen in the future."
Meanwhile, PM Netanyahu reportedly made an outrageous claim leveled against Iran during a lunch with NATO ambassadors in Jerusalem this week, saying "As part of Iran’s plans of conquest and colonization of Syria, they want to bring in as many as 100,000 Shias, Shia fighters… not Iranians, under Iranian command." Netanyahu has issued repeat warnings over the past months that Israel would not allow Iran to establish and enduring presence in Syria.
At the same time (on Tuesday), Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published a series of statements via twitter alleging a covert externally driven plot to destabilize Iran, and promising "this won't be left without a response." He said, "Once again, the nation tells the U.S., Britain, and those who seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran from abroad that ‘you’ve failed, and you will fail in the future, too’."
Khamenei also expressly accused the Israelis and an opposition militant group, the MEK [a controversial exiled opposition group, People's Mujahedin of Iran, which has long been favored by Washington and has launched assassination campaigns targeting Iranian scientists] of secretly fueling the unrest which left at least 21 dead - among them Iranian intelligence personnel and a police officer.
According to evidence of intelligence, there's been a triangle pattern activating these events. The scheme was formed by U.S. & Zionists. The money came fr a wealthy govt near Persian Gulf; the 3rd element were the henchmen. The butchers, MEK, were hired as minions for this plot.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 9, 2018
In response to prior tweets by President Trump condemning the Tehran government while expressing support for protests, Khamenei further addressed the White House and Trump directly by saying, "this man who sits at the head of the White House - although, he seems to be a very unstable man - he must realize that these extreme and psychotic episodes won't be left without a response."
Thus far the Iranian authorities have only responded internally as CNN and many other outlets are now reporting as many as over 3,500 arrests following the ten days of protests. Tehran authorities have alleged that provocateurs in league with foreign sponsors drove the demonstrations to violence. There are also multiple allegations of torture and new reports of prison detainees committing suicide surfacing; however, the bulk of such reports are unverifiable and sourced to opposition activists.
Thus far Trump hasn't responded to Iran's top Muslim cleric accusing the president of "psychotic episodes" though it will be interesting to see what the next Trump tweet on Iran has to say.