How the current Kashmir crisis presents a strategic opportunity for Iran

Agha Hussain

Posted originally to Eurasia Future on 19 August 2019.

India de facto annexed Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month and heightened military tussles at the border with Pakistan have been a constant feature since then. India has sought to impose as much of a blackout in Kashmir as possible, albeit this hasn’t succeeded in stopping videos and testimonies of the repressionreaching global audiences. Awareness of the depth of the repression in Kashmir has been rising incrementally, making it increasingly difficult for anyone to ignore.

The possibly highly strategic dimension of the Kashmir conflict, however, and significance of the escalatory crescendo for Iran in particular is something that deserves special attention.

What’s unfolding in Kashmir and what it means for Iran

Following the martyrdom of iconic freedom fighter Burhan Wani in 2016, the Kashmiri Azaadi struggle entered a new phase altogether, with the amplified vigour driving the…

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The Spy Game: It Ain’t What It Used to Be

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August 1, 2019

The Tehran government has announced the arrest of seventeen Iranian citizens caught spying for America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Some of those arrested have already been sentenced to death. It is the third major roll-up of CIA agents in Iran that I have been aware of, the first occurring in 1991 involved 20 American agents. The second episode in 2011 led to the arrest of 30 spies. The earlier arrests reportedly eliminated what were presumed to be the entire networks of American agents operating inside Iran and it is to be presumed that the recent arrests will have the same impact.

The Iranians presented a considerable quantity of evidence, including photos and business cards of US government officials, to back up their claim of American spying but President Trump dismissed the report as “totally false” and “just more lies and propaganda” — while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they’ve taken.”

Iran’s press release on the arrests together with a briefing by an intelligence official supplemented by local media coverage provided some of the details. The seventeen reportedly had “sophisticated training” but those who had sabotage missions did not succeed. Other objectives included “collecting information at the facilities they worked at, carrying out technical and intelligence activities and transferring and installing monitoring devices.”

Some of the agents had reportedly been recruited by falling into what is referred to as a “visa trap” set by the CIA for Iranians seeking to travel to the US. This has long been the preferred tool for recruiting Iranian agents. The intelligence official handed out a CD with a video recording of an alleged CIA case officer speaking to an Iranian target, which was presumably recorded secretly. The video shows a blonde woman who speaks Persian with an American accent. The disc also included names of several US embassy staff in Dubai, Turkey, India, Zimbabwe and Austria who Iran claims were involved in the recruitment and training of the Iranian spies.

How exactly did the recruitments take place as there is no US Embassy in Tehran and few Americans resident in the country? Many of the Iranians were targeted when they walked into an American Embassy in a country to which they are free to travel, which includes Turkey and Dubai. In the words of the Iranian intelligence official, “Some were approached when they were applying for a visa, while others had visas from before and were pressured by the CIA in order to renew them.”

Others were targeted and recruited as spies while attending scientific conferences around the world. Those recruited received promises of money, eventual resettlement and a job in the US or medical assistance. To maintain contact with its agents inside Iran, the CIA would reportedly conceal spyware and instructions in containers that look like rocks, which would be planted in city parks or in rural areas. The Iranian agents would then recover the material, which might include false identification documents. It should be observed that fake rocks are a standard espionage tool. They are hollowed out to conceal spy-gear and communications. After they are in place, a signal is made to alert the agent that there is something ready to be picked-up. In the trade they are referred to as “dead drops.”

Why does the United States continue to spy on Iran with such ferocity? The Mullahs became a major intelligence target for Washington in the wake of the 1979 US Embassy hostage crisis, in which fifty-two American diplomats and intelligence officers were held for 444 days. The CIA mounted a major intelligence operation run from Europe that collected a wide range of information on the Iranian government and, increasingly, on its technical capabilities, including a suspected nuclear development program. In 2015 the CIA under President Barack Obama and Director John Brennan ramped up collection efforts against Iran as part of the verification process for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). More recently, Mike Pompeo, when CIA Director, further increased efforts against Iran when the Trump Administration withdrew from that agreement in the belief that Iran represented a rogue nation and a threat to United States interests and allies. In reality, of course, there is no real American vital interest relating to Iran and Trump has been acting on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are hostile to Iran as a regional rival.

But running intelligence operations in a country without a US Embassy to serve as a base for spies proved difficult. Many spies have been caught, by one Iranian estimate, 290 agents arrested in recent years. Most often the exposure of the spies has been due to human error or technical problems in communications. Iran has benefited by boasting of those arrests and has long promoted its capacity to uncover American spy rings in the country. As the New York Times reports, Iran has recently aired a documentary featuring efforts to expose and rid the country of the CIA agents working there.

A recently produced and very popular Iranian fictional television series called “Gando” has also introduced the narrative of a perpetual fight against American spies into the country’s popular culture. The show features brave Iranian intelligence officials in pursuit of an American spy posing as a journalist.

According to a Yahoo News investigation, Iran was in 2009 enraged by reports that the CIA had possibly penetrated its nuclear program and its counter-intelligence agents immediately went on the hunt for moles. By 2011, Iranian officials had uncovered and arrested a network of 30 CIA sources, a fact that US officials later confirmed. Some of the accused informants were executed. The Iranian government was able to find the operatives because of failures in the systems and techniques that the CIA agents used to communicate with the agents. Once a flaw in communications is detected, it is possible to exploit that so one can sit back and wait and watch for all those linked to the network to reveal themselves.

One might observe that the continued massive American “maximum pressure” spying effort directed against Iran is a bit of an anachronism. It is agreed by nearly all observers that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and is unlikely to start one. The sanctions put in place against the country unilaterally by the US cannot produce a popular uprising that will bring down the regime, but they have indeed hurt the country’s economy badly and the people are suffering. Iran’s military cannot stand up against its neighbors, much less against the United States, and its ability to meddle in the affairs of its neighbors is extremely limited.

So, it is probably just as well that Iran has again rolled up most of the American spies in the country, though it will be a tragedy for the men and women involved. Many critics of the Agency have argued that the CIA has forgotten how to spy in an age of drones and electronic surveillance, which may be true. Certainly, the CIA record regarding Iran is nothing to brag about.

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India Humiliated Zarif By Sending Him Back To Iran Empty-Handed

By Andrew Korybko
Source

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was desperate for India to offer his country some relief from the economic component of the US’ Hybrid War on the Islamic Republic but was humiliatingly sent back empty-handed by his hosts after being told in non-committal terms that New Delhi will only decide on this issue after the ongoing elections, which can’t portend anything positive for Iran if Modi wins re-election since BJP-ruled India has been decisively pivoting towards Tehran’s American, “Israeli”, and Saudi enemies for the past half-decade already.

The Iranian “Begging Bowl”

A millennia-old civilization as proud as Iran’s has never sent its representatives abroad with a “begging bowl” until now when Foreign Minister Zarif was urgently dispatched to India to desperately seek some relief from the economic component of the US’ Hybrid War on the Islamic Republic. India’s acquiescence to America’s “secondary sanctions” pressure and its subsequent decision to discontinue purchasing Iranian oil following the Trump Administration’s refusal to renew its waiver will greatly exacerbate Iran’s economic challenges by depriving it of its second-largest customer and the attendant revenue that it was expected to provide to the country’s budget. It’s therefore not for naught that President Rouhani recently warned his countrymen that they might face conditions harder than during the 1980s war with Iraq and decided to send his top diplomat to India in the hopes of negotiating a workaround for continuing Iran’s energy cooperation with the South Asian state.

Inexplicable Trust In The Untrustworthy

Alas, it was all in vain because India humiliated Zarif by sending back to Iran empty-handed after being told in non-committal terms that New Delhi will only decide on this issue after the ongoing elections, which can’t portend anything positive for Iran if Modi wins re-election since BJP-ruled India has been decisively pivoting towards Tehran’s American, “Israeli“, and Saudi enemies for the past half-decade already. Iran’s ruling “Reformist” faction, however, ignored these “inconvenient facts” for reasons that only they can account for if challenged, though possibly in the “best-case” scenario having naively fallen for the “Indian Illusion” of New Delhi denying anti-Iranian sanctions while quietly preparing to implement them this entire time.

The Writing On The Wall

If Modi getting his toes wet with Netanyahu in the Mediterranean during the first-ever visit of an Indian Prime Minister to “Israel” back in summer 2017 didn’t set alarm bells ringing, then Iran must also not have considered India’s military-strategic partnership with the US that past summer through LEMOA to be a threat despite it allowing the Pentagon access to some Indian military facilities on a case-by-case “logistical” basis, nor for that matter would it have realized that Modi was scheming against their country during his summit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman at last year’s G20 in Argentina. The signs were all there this entire time that India would submit to American-“Israeli”-Saudi pressure to cut off its oil imports from Iran, but the Islamic Republic was evidently oblivious to them for whatever the reason may be.

Lesson Learned?

In spite of all of this, it’s unclear whether Iran finally learned its lesson or not. For all that one knows, India might still have Iran under its spell, lying to Zarif that he needs to wait until the elections are over for it to make a decision because otherwise the US will immediately punish it and therefore tip the scales in favor of the opposition at the last minute. Since Iran has been victimized by the US’ regime change plots for quite some time already, it would probably have been sympathetic to this excuse and easily fallen for it even though it appears obvious that Modi will only accelerate his pro-Western pivot if he wins re-election and probably won’t hesitate to throw Iran under the bus as one of the sacrifices that he might be forced to make to his new American-“Israeli”-Saudi patrons.

The Double Backstab

After all, he might very well be preparing to ditch Russia by pulling out of the previously agreed deal to purchase its S-400s in order to avoid the US’ CAATSA “secondary sanctions”, though with the “consolation” being that he can buy the US’ THAAD instead. Considering that Modi might also be about to bow down to Trump on trade too, it’s difficult to imagine that he’d risk his new master’s wrath by continuing to purchase oil from Iran. In the event that he backstabs Russia too, then the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) and its over-hyped terminal port of Chabahar would probably be canceled, unless of course Iran “saves face” by kicking India out of the project first as punishment for it submitting to the US’ sanctions demands and then replaces its role with its Chinese rival instead.

CPEC Calling

On the topic of Iran’s possible responses to India’s perfidy (if it even realizes that it’s being manipulated, that is), the Islamic Republic would be wise to accelerate its incipient rapprochement with the global pivot state of Pakistan, understanding that there are obvious limitations to how far and fast everything can unfold but nevertheless realizing that it’s the most pragmatic way to “make the best of a bad situation” after “putting all its eggs in one basket” with India but then losing everything. There’s no doubt that India’s humiliation of Zarif and it failure to “donate” anything into his “begging bowl” stands as perhaps the greatest foreign policy failure of the Rouhani-led “Reformist” government apart from the disastrous nuclear deal that the US ultimately withdrew from, so seeing as how those two countries are allies with one another nowadays anyhow (together with Iran’s “Israeli” and Saudi enemies), then pivoting to their Pakistani and Chinese rivals respectively in response would make the most sense.

Trump And PM Khan Might Have Just Ruined Iranian-Indian Relations

By Andrew Korybko
Source

The American and Pakistani leaders independently took two very important and uncoordinated moves at almost the exact same time that might coincidentally have the same effect of ruining Iranian-Indian relations.

Iranian-Indian relations might be about to enter their worst-ever period in modern history as a result of two very important and uncoordinated moves undertaken at almost the exact same time by the American and Pakistani leaders. PM Khan just paid his first visit to Iran where he and his hosts announced that they’ll enter into a new era of anti-terrorist cooperation that geopolitical analyst Adam Garrie comprehensively analyzed in his recent piece on this breaking news event. The ball was indeed in Iran’s court to stop India’s anti-Pakistani Baloch terrorism like I wrote the other day, and to Tehran’s credit, its leadership finally understood this and decided to expand its military partnership with the global pivot state of Pakistan. This will greatly complicate India’s Hybrid War capabilities in clandestinely using Iranian territory to carry out terrorist attacks against Pakistan by proxy as it obsessively seeks to sabotage CPEC, meaning that PM Khan’s visit will have far-reaching and long-term geostrategic security consequences in the New Cold War.

In parallel with this, Trump decided that the US won’t renew its Iranian oil sanctions waivers and that Washington’s GCC partners of Saudi Arabia and the UAE will help the Islamic Republic’s energy customers replace their imports with Gulf resources instead. India was very vocal last year about its intent to defy the US’ unilateral sanctions against Iran, but as I wrote in my piece at the time about the “Indian Illusion“, all of this was just rhetoric to hide the fact that New Delhi was quietly implementing its new American patron’s will. Trump just put Modi on the spot, however, and it might augur negatively for the Indian leader during the ongoing month-long electoral process if he publicly capitulates to the US’ demands and replaces Iranian resources with Gulf ones like I suspected he’s been planning to do since late last year after his summit in Argentina with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. As such, this American move might also be yet another “bad cop” tactic against Modi to get more strategic concessions out of India.

It therefore wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Trump and PM Khan might have just ruined Iranian-Indian relations for good when considering the combined effect of their latest moves to that relationship. The Pakistani leader exposed India’s Hybrid War terrorist plot during his talks with the Iranian leadership which probably explains why the two neighboring nations decided to take their military cooperation with one another to the next level, while the American leader is forcing India to stop importing Iranian oil under the threat of potentially crippling “secondary sanctions” and to replace its resources with those from the Islamic Republic’s hated GCC foes. Although Iran and India still have shared strategic interests in the Chabahar Corridor and North-South Transport Corridor, the trust that formerly defined their relations is broken and their ties will never be the same. The end result is beneficial to the US and Pakistan for different reasons and might even interestingly be a tangential outcome of their recent diplomatic cooperationin Afghanistan.

The Ball’s In Iran’s Court To Stop Anti-Pakistani Baloch Terrorism

By Andrew Korybko
Source

Pakistan filed an official complaint against Iran just two days before Prime Minister Khan’s first visit to the Islamic Republic for its unwillingness to take action against Baloch terrorist groups like the one that claimed credit for the recent terror attack along the Makran Coastal Highway despite being informed by Islamabad about training camps and logistics bases within its borders, which therefore puts the ball in Iran’s court to stop this resurgent trend of transnational terrorism in the region and will obviously figure very high on the agenda during the Pakistani leader’s upcoming two-day visit.

An umbrella group of three Baloch terrorist organizations claimed credit for the recent killing of 14 Pakistanis who were pulled off of a bus traveling along the Makran Coastal Highway by fighters disguised as legitimate members of the security services and martyred in front of the other passengers. Pakistan filed an official complaint against Iran just two days before Prime Minister Khan’s first visit to the Islamic Republic for its unwillingness to take action against Baloch terrorist groups such as the one that was responsible for the latest attack, claiming that Tehran had previously been informed by Islamabad of training camps and logistics bases within its borders but hadn’t done anything to address this resurgent trend of transnational terrorism in the region. Although it’s not directly stated, the complaint heavily implies a high degree of hypocrisy on the side of the Iranian government which had previously resorted to over-the-top rhetoric back in February after a Baloch terrorist attack along the Pakistani frontier, even ridiculously hinting that an Indian-like “surgical strike” against Pakistan was one of the options on the table.

I wrote about that incident in a previous piece about how “Iran’s Being Tricked Into Making Balochistan The New Kurdistan” by India, but Tehran apparently doesn’t care all that much because it’s too obsessed with the carrot of potential “sanctions relief” that “Israel’s” new ally in New Delhi is dangling in front of it through the Chabahar Corridor even though “Iran Just Fell Victim To Blowback From The US-Indian Hybrid War On CPEC” back in December. I explained how India’s RAW (its version of the Mossad) is responsible for this upsurge in regional terrorism, which the whole world is already aware of after Pakistan provided evidence of this to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice following the capture of Hybrid Waragent Kulbushan Jadhav and his admission to operating out of Iran’s nearby Indian-owned Chabahar port. My analysis at the time mentioned that Iran had the chance to use that tragedy to strengthen anti-terrorist cooperation with Pakistan along their shared border and possibly establish an Iranian version of the “Overseas Pakistani Baloch Unity” initiative (OPBU, recently rebranded to PBU after dropping the first prefix) for reintegrating wayward Baloch into society.

It now looks as though Iran ignored that opportunity and is therefore indirectly responsible for the latest terrorist attack in Pakistan as a result of its negligence. It’s important to point out that the incident was probably timed to coincide with Prime Minister Khan’s first two-day visit to Iran just like the February one against the Islamic Republic was likely inended to provoke a crisis in bilateral relations precisely at the moment that India was planning its Bollywood-like “surgical strike” against Pakistan. Islamabad wisely isn’t biting the bait but it surely isn’t going to leave Iran’s irresponsibility to its neighbor unaddressed during the Prime Minister’s trip either, especially since last week’s terrorist attack was obviously meant to diminish international confidence in CPEC after targeting one of the global pivot state’s main transit routes connecting to the terminal port of Gwadar. As such, Iran’s IRGC are compelled to take decisive action against the Indian-backed terrorist groups on their soil if they themselves truly aren’t the “terrorists” that Trump claims that they are, thus putting the ball in their court and making Prime Minister Khan’s upcoming visit a defining moment in bilateral relations.

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