by Yaakov Lappin
Iran's claim to arresting 12 CIA agents in its territory is linked to clandestine efforts by Tehran to disperse missiles around the country, a senior Iran analyst in the US told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Professor Raymond Tanter, adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and founder of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, said the Iranians were moving and testing missiles "that would form the first response" to an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites.
"The rollup of alleged western spies in Iran involves the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)," Tanter said, adding that this was an organization which "operates all of Iran’s Scud missiles and provides the military leadership for Iranian missile production."
"Events in Iran concern surreptitious testing and movement of missiles at an IRGC facility during mid-November to harden and hide them from surprise attack," he added.
Referring to a mysterious and powerful blast that rocked a missile base on the outskirts of Tehran earlier this month, killing General Hassan Moghaddam, the architect of Iran's missile program, and at least 16 other Iranian officials, Tanter said, "The accident in Iran is consistent with statements by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Tehran seeks to create a 'zone of immunity,' which spreads missile sites around. The goals are to increase the costs of an Israeli first strike, lower the likelihood of success, and decrease the time window of opportunity for Israel to attack Iran."
Earlier on Thursday, Iran's IRNA official media outlet said the supposed agents were planning to attack Iranian targets. The report quoted a senior Iranian security official as saying that the alleged spies were planning to carry out espionage attacks to "damage Iran both from inside and outside with a heavy blow, using regional intelligence services."
"Fortunately, with swift reaction by the Iranian intelligence department, the actions failed to bear fruit," the official, named as Parviz Sorouri, a member of Iran's foreign policy and national security committee, added.
Sourouri also said the alleged agents were working with "the Zionist regime."
Tanter said that "there is a humongous need for human intelligence from inside Iran," adding, "The best source to complement western intelligence on the IRGC is the main Iranian opposition organization, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), which is under siege in Iraq but still maintains an effective intelligence network in the Iranian national security establishment."
On Tuesday, unnamed US officials were quoted by Reuters as saying that Hezbollah too "succeeded in identifying and arresting informants within its ranks who were working for the CIA," and described the development as an apparent "serious setback for US intelligence."
"Some former US officials said that the CIA informants, believed to be local recruits rather than US citizens, were uncovered, at least in part, due to sloppy procedures - known in the espionage world as 'tradecraft,' - used by the agency," Reuters said.
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