Iranian dissident journalist Moradi ‘abducted’ in Turkey

The killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 ‘was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response.’ (Reuters)
The killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 ‘was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response.’ (Reuters)
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Updated 06 June 2022

Iranian dissident journalist Moradi ‘abducted’ in Turkey

The killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 ‘was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response.’ (Reuters)
  • News of his disappearance may complicate Iranian FM’s visit to Ankara

ANKARA: The disappearance of Mohammed Bagher Moradi, an Iranian dissident journalist who took shelter in Turkey nine years ago, has fueled concerns that he is another victim of Iranian intelligence and abduction operations that have been active in the region.

Moradi, who sought asylum in Turkey after fleeing Iran during a trial over his critical news coverage, disappeared on May 30. His father believes his son was abducted by Iranian operatives since he had been followed by Iranian intelligence for a while in capital Ankara. His family filed a criminal complaint with the local Turkish prosecutor’s office.
In 2013, Moradi, a member of Saraye Ahl-e Ghalam (Writer’s Association), was given a five-year prison sentence term on the charge of “illegal gathering and collusion against national security.”
For Iranian dissidents, Turkey has become a safe haven or a transit point to reach European countries if their legal status remains unclear.
The reciprocal visa-free travel regime between Iran and Turkey provides Iranians with the chance to stay and move freely for up to 90 days in Turkey.




Mohammed Bagher Moradi. (Supplied photo)


However, this has not gone unnoticed by Iranian intelligence operatives who established espionage networks in the country to kidnap or assassinate dissidents despite the bilateral commitments between the two countries to cooperate against human trafficking and terrorism.
Oubai Shahbandar, a defense and security analyst, thinks it’s clear that Iranian intelligence operatives are still carrying out terror and kidnap operations that target Turkey.
“The assassination of (the dissident) Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in the middle of a busy street in Istanbul in 2019 was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response. That the Iranians are still carrying out brazen attacks shows how little Tehran cares for international norms and respect for sovereignty,” he told Arab News.
Turkish authorities arrested several suspects over their links to Vardanjani, who was a former intelligence operative for Iran. This included a staff member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul named Mohammed Reza Naserzade, who was held in February 2021, but Tehran denied any involvement with the murder.
Before he was shot dead in Istanbul, the Iranian dissident began sharing bombshell social media posts on the corruption of Iranian officials.
Last year, a high-ranking pilot from the Iranian army who took shelter in Turkey in 2018 filed a complaint with Turkish authorities claiming that some people tried to abduct him and his spouse several times in a bid to deliver him to Iranian intelligence. Eight people were arrested in September 2021 in connection with the incident.
Earlier this year, Turkish intelligence thwarted another plot by Iranian operatives to kill an Israeli-Turkish businessperson on Iran’s orders.
Yair Geller, a 75-year-old Istanbul-based tycoon who invested in machine and defense industries in Turkey, was targeted by a nine-person network that was gathered by Iran’s intelligence agency in response to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in what Tehran claimed was an Israeli operation.
The attempt was foiled following a month-long surveillance operation by the Turkish intelligence agency.
Jason Brodsky, policy director of the group United Against a Nuclear Iran, told Arab News that the case of Moradi is just one more example of Iran’s long history of using Turkey as a launch pad to target Iranian dissidents.
However, he doesn’t think the operation itself was primarily motivated by Turkey’s warming relations with Israel.
“It is more that Iran has found a permissive environment in Turkey to operate, not to mention the geographic advantages for its security forces in being able to quickly smuggle their targets into Iranian territory,” Brodsky said.
Last week, Israel’s National Security Council issued a travel warning for Turkey, claiming there was a concrete threat to Israelis by “Iranian terrorist operatives” there and in nearby countries.
According to Brodsky, Israel’s recent travel warning for Israelis in Turkey is one more example of how infiltrated Turkey is with Iranian intelligence.
“These revelations come ahead of the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Turkey on Monday — his first since taking office. Despite Iran’s reach inside Turkey, there are still irritants in the bilateral relationship over water, Iran-backed militias’ targeting of Turkish forces in Iraq and other issues. The news about the Moradi case will add yet another complication during the Iranian foreign minister’s visit,” he added.
In February, 16 suspects belonging to a network were arrested over their ties to Iranian intelligence in bringing back Iranian dissidents back to their homeland. The network was discovered following a detailed investigation by Turkish intelligence. They were accused of political and military espionage, as well as of abduction.
In its previous operations in Turkey, the network smuggled another Iranian dissident, former Col. Mashali Firouze, back to Iran, while its attempts to abduct former naval officer Mohammed Rezaei and economist Shahnam Golshani were botched.
Regarding the timing of the Iranian operatives’ abduction attempts in Turkey, Shahbandar said it is definitely not random.
“It is a sign of Iran’s desperation as the economy collapses and protests spread further across the country,” he said.


Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears

Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears
Updated 21 sec ago

Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears

Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears
  • IRGC intelligence chief sacked after assassinations, document leaks embarrass regime

LONDON: The Iranian regime has purged senior leaders in its security apparatus, including a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, amid fears that Israeli espionage has caused a recent spate of blunders and assassinations, the Telegraph reported.

The British daily said a senior general in the IRGC had been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel a week after the corps’ intelligence boss Hossein Taeb lost his job. 

Taeb was fired after several embarrassing security blunders, with Israeli officials describing the Iranian regime as “shocked” and “rattled.”

Israel scuppered an Iranian plot to kill Israelis in Turkey, publicly warning its citizens of an imminent attack and arresting several people allegedly linked with IRGC cells.

In May, Israel published a collection of Iranian documents that detailed threats to its nuclear program.

More recently — and most troublingly for the regime — two nuclear scientists were poisoned and killed at separate dinner parties, which Tehran suspects was carried out by Israel.

Israeli officials told the Telegraph that the recent mixture of information and attacking operations were part of a strategy called the “Octopus doctrine,” which compares the regime’s leadership to the head of an octopus and its various proxies and forces — such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the IRGC across the region — as the tentacles.

But rather than limiting the effect of those tentacles, Israeli forces are now shifting to directly striking the head of the beast.

“The Iranians saw all of that information released by Israel as a huge slap in the face. And they were shocked. They were rattled by it,” an Israeli security official told the Telegraph, adding that the doctrine “has proven to be effective. It has caused shockwaves throughout the leadership of Iran.” 

Iran analysts told the Telegraph that Taeb was a major figure in Tehran’s leadership, enjoying a close relationship with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“His unceremonious sacking heralds more political purges within the regime as it faces growing domestic discontent and challenges to its regional policy,” said Dr. Reza Taghizade, a London-based Iran observer.

Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British academic and former hostage of the regime, said Taeb was referred to as “The Judge” because he observed interrogation and hostage practices.

“Most theories for Taeb’s removal are due to IRGC Intel’s inability to prevent Israel from operating inside Iran’s borders, including conducting high-profile assassinations,” said Moore-Gilbert. 

“The IRGC Intelligence Organization is not a professional intelligence agency, its members are recruited on the basis of ideological and religious affiliation, and everything is kept ‘in the family’ — you have to have contacts and already know people on the inside in order to get a foot in the door,” she added.

“As a result, many of its operatives are incompetent and poorly skilled for the job. Many of them lack a security mindset or a proper understanding of the conduct of espionage.”


Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree
Updated 03 July 2022

Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH: Israel said on Sunday it would test a bullet that killed a Palestinian-American journalist to determine whether one of its soldiers shot her and said a US observer would be present for the procedure that could deliver results within hours.
The Palestinians, who on Saturday handed over the bullet to a US security coordinator, said they had been assured that Israel would not take part in the ballistics.
Washington has yet to comment. The United States has a holiday weekend to mark July 4.
The May 11 death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank, and feuding between the sides as to the circumstances, have overshadowed a visit by US President Joe Biden due this month.
The Palestinians accuse the Israeli military of killing her deliberately. Israel denies this, saying Abu Akleh may have been hit by errant army fire or by one of the Palestinian gunmen who were clashing with its forces.
“The (ballistic) test will not be American. The test will be an Israeli test, with an American presence throughout,” said Israeli military spokesman Brig.-General Ran Kochav.
“In the coming days or hours it will be become clear whether it was even us who killed her, accidentally, or whether it was the Palestinian gunmen,” he told Army Radio. “If we killed her, we will take responsibility and feel regret for what happened.”
Akram Al-Khatib, general prosecutor for the Palestinian Authority, said the test would take place at the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
“We got guarantees from the American coordinator that the examination will be conducted by them and that the Israeli side will not take part,” Al-Khatib told Voice of Palestine radio, adding that he expected the bullet to be returned on Sunday.
An embassy spokesperson said: “We don’t have anything new at this time.”
Biden is expected to hold separate meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders on July 13-16. The Abu Akleh case will be a diplomatic and domestic test for new Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Israeli Deputy Internal Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz said Lapid had been involved in “managing the arrival and transfer of this bullet.”
“It will take a few days to conduct a ballistic test, with several experts, to ensure that there is an unequivocal assessment,” Segalovitz told Army Radio.


Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Updated 03 July 2022

Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
  • Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime”

TUNIS: The head of Tunisia’s constitution committee blasted the proposed constitution published by President Kais Saied this week, local Assabeh newspapers reported on Sunday.
Sadok Belaid, a former constitutional law professor was named by Saied to draft a “new constitution for new republic,” said Saied’s version was dangerous and did not resemble the first draft proposed by the constitution committee.
Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”
The president has not commented on the constitution since he published the text on Thursday in Tunisia’s official gazette. The constitution would give Saied far more powers and will be put to a referendum next month.

 


Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over Mediterranean

An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
Updated 03 July 2022

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over Mediterranean

An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
  • Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Saturday said it shot down three unmanned aircraft launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah heading toward an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea.
The launch of the aircraft appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area that is rich in natural gas.
In a statement, the Israeli said the aircraft were spotted early on and did not pose an “imminent threat.” Nonetheless, the incident drew a stern warning from Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid.
“I stand before you at this moment and say to everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t test us,” Lapid said in his first address to the nation since taking office on Friday. “Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy.”
Israel earlier this month set up a gas rig in the Karish field, which Israel says lies within part of its internationally recognized economic waters. Lebanon has claimed it is in disputed waters.
Hezbollah issued a short statement, confirming it had launched three unarmed drones toward the disputed maritime issue over the Karish field on a reconnaissance mission. “The mission was accomplished and the message was received,” it said.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
The US last week said that mediator Amos Hochstein had held conversations with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. “The exchanges were productive and advanced the objective of narrowing differences between the two sides. The United States will remain engaged with parties in the days and weeks ahead,” his office said in a statement last week.
The two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters that Lebanon received “encouraging information” regarding the border dispute but refused to comment further saying Beirut is waiting for the “written official response to the suggestions by the Lebanese side.”
 


Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection
Updated 02 July 2022

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection
  • Regional actors voice concerns over potential military operation in Tal Rifaat and Manbij 
  • “No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Turkish President Erdogan told journalists in Madrid

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is in no rush to stage a new military operation against armed Kurdish militants.

But regional actors have voiced their concerns over the potential Turkish offensive against the towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbij.

“No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Erdogan told journalists in Madrid, where he met with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Erdogan offered no timeline for the planned operation.

The stakes are high. Experts believe that Turkey still lacks Russian backing for a military intervention against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be a terror group with direct links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the ORSAM think tank in Ankara, said that Russia’s failure to back the operation remains its major obstacle.

“Ankara decided to launch a military offensive on Syria while the world’s attention is focused on the war in Ukraine — and after thousands of Russian troops withdrew from Ukraine. However, Russia cannot risk looking weak in both Ukraine or Syria by giving the greenlight to a Turkish operation now,” he told Arab News.

Orhan noted that Turkey only hit targets along the Turkish-Syrian border as retaliation against attacks by the YPG.

“I don’t expect a larger-scale operation in which the Syrian National Army would serve as ground forces and the Turkish military would give aerial support,” he said.

Ankara has previously conducted three military operations in the area: Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018, and Peace Spring in 2019.

Troop numbers from both Russia and the Syrian regime have been increasing in northern Syria since early June ahead of a potential Turkish operation.

Iran has also been very vocal in its opposition of any Turkish military operation in the area.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saaed Khatibzadeh recently said: “The Syria file is a matter of dispute between us and Turkey.”

On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister paid a visit to Damascus following Turkey’s threats to launch the new offensive.

“Both from an ideological and strategic perspective, Iran accords importance to protecting Shiite settlements — especially the two Shiite towns of Nubl and Al-Zahra. And there are also some Shiite militia fighting along with the YPG in Tal Rifaat,” Orhan said.

“However, at this point, Russia’s position is much more (important to Turkey) than Iran’s concerns, because Russia controls the airspace in northern Syria and it would have to withdraw Russian forces before approving any Turkish operation,” he added.

Some experts have suggested that Turkey used its potential Syria operation as a bargaining chip during its recent negotiations with Washington. When Erdogan met Biden on June 29, they discussed the importance of maintaining stability in Syria, according to the White House readout.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), mainly led by the YPG, still holds large areas of northeast Syria. Syrian Kurds are regarded by Washington as an important ally against Daesh.

Although the Biden administration has repeatedly said that it acknowledges Turkey’s security concerns, it has also warned that any Turkish operation in northern Syria could put US troops at risk, and undermine the fight against Daesh.

Hamidreza Azizi, CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, thinks that, given the course of events, the Turkish operation is inevitable.

“It (will) happen sooner or later. Because Turkish leaders have been maneuvering on what they see as threats Turkey is facing from northern Syria, we should expect some kind of military operation,” he told Arab News.

“But the scope of the operation has been a matter of speculation because, in the beginning, Turkish officials were talking about a vast area from Tal Rifaat and Manbij to east of the Euphrates, but they reconsidered after US opposition to the expansion of the operation east of the Euphrates,” Azizi said.

Azizi expects a limited operation to happen, the main aim of which would be to expand Turkey’s zone of influence in the area.

Turkey’s original plan had been to establish a 30 kilometer-deep security zone along its southern border both to push back the YPG and to repatriate around 1 million Syrian refugees in a wider safe zone.

President Erdogan recently announced a reconstruction plan to enable Syrians to return to their homeland.

Azizi believes that “the main friction” over this potential operation would be between Iran and Turkey.

“Iran is worried because if Turkey — or Turkish-backed troops — control Tal Rifaat, they have access to Aleppo, where Iran is present, which will give them further access to central Syria.”

Iran is still a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also an important trade partner for Turkey.

Unless Turkey is able to come up with a new plan that alleviates Iran’s concerns, Azizi expects a response from the Iranian side — albeit an indirect one via proxy forces.

“Such a move could push Turkey to further strengthen ties with Arab states and cooperate further with Israel,” he said.

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