UPDATE: More on Israel’s Iranian spy scandal

Last week I reported on the arrest of Ali Mansouri (AKA Alex Mans), an Iranian-Belgian national, by Israeli authorities after he was caught setting up fronts and photographing sensitive sites, including the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The arrest was predictably denounced by Tehran as a sham, “a repetitive scenario by the Zionist regime,” but Israel sticks by its story, though it’s been noted by less biased sources that the announcement of the arrest was approved at the highest levels in Israel.

Today more important details about the case have been revealed in The Jerusalem Post by a former senior officer of the Israeli Security Service (SHABAK), an account which amplifies the counterintelligence details of the Mansouri/Mans operation considerably and shows that Iran’s espionage-terrorism threat is on the rise.

In particular, SHABAK is concerned because, although Israel has been targeted by Iranian agents in recent years, including many third-country passport holders like Mansouri/Mans, those have normally come from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS, VEVAK in Persian), the new suspect’s ties to the IRGC’s elite Qods Force indicates a new set of problems, as the Qods Force is charged with terrorism, not just espionage, abroad, including numerous attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in several countries.

As I reported before, Mansouri/Mans was in Israel spotting potential terrorism targets and setting up a front infrastructure for IRGC/QF operations in the country, which heretofore has been something of a denied area for Tehran’s spies. SHABAK considered this new infiltrator’s cover to be relatively sophisticated but they caught him nevertheless; it’s apparent Mansouri/Mans had been on the radar of Israeli counterintelligence well before his arrest on 11 September.

This case demonstrates that SHABAK continues to be the proficient security service it has been for decades, and Israeli intelligence in general has a better handle on the Iranian “special war” threat than just about anyone. That said, the Mansouri/Mans operation indicates that the Iranians have a learning curve too, and their tradecraft is improving. Since the Pasdaran does more than just espionage, this is troubling turn of events that Western counterintelligence and counterterrorism services and experts ignore at their peril.



8 comments on “UPDATE: More on Israel’s Iranian spy scandal”
  1. Very interesting !

    I read “The Twilight War” by David Crist -detailing our own 30 year secret history of conflict with Iran, and would recommend it to anyone trying to make sense of Iran.

    They definitely hate Israel –and us !

  2. My God ! I just realized: The 30th anniversary of the Beirut bombing – a Hezbollah operation that killed 220 Marines, 18 Sailors,and 3 Soldiers.

    After doing extensive recon on their target, Hezbollah sent a suicide operative in a truck crammed with explosives – which crashed through the barracks gate, then exploded.

  3. Erin Brennan says:

    Another great article. I would ask in turn, which “special war” are the Israelis playing? Mans came to the country under a “flimsy” cover, as you stated previously, it takes the Israelis five days to nab him (on the way OUT no less) and giving Mans plenty of time to photograph every sensitive target he’s able to. All at a time when your Commander in Chief needs, well, persuading.

    Isn’t this what the XX is all about? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. 20committee says:

      That exactly what the XX is about! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Brad says:

    A couple of thoughts: Since SHABAK was doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, is this a scandal? Scandal would seem to imply someone was caught doing something unseemly/unexpected. Certainly no one is expecting the Iranians to be playing fair with Israel.

    Also, it’s an odd Symmetry that the Israelis had a notable role in developing SAVAK, which in turn had a formative influence on the current Iranian “Special Military” apparatus. Intelligence Darwinism in action.

    1. 20committee says:

      Plotting terrorism goes a bit beyond “not playing fair”. VEVAK ops are normal, Pasdaran (especially QF) doing this sort of thing is not. Hence the story.

      1. Brad Panoff says:

        Fair point. Forgive the imprecision of my phrasing. However, my point stands, scandal would seem to imply that Pasdaran/QF are somehow being judged relative to rational actors in a frame of reference other than their (only internally consistent) own. In my view, the danger here is for people to somehow think that prosecuting this guy will somehow embarrass Iran. It won’t, and in fact the prosecution only has value in showing that Israel is a democracy that has, at least internally, something of a transparent due process. Other than that, they’ve only made their counter-intel ops more visible. Ali Mansouri AKA Alex Mans seems like a very disposable asset and I’m thinking he’s just the redundant guy who got caught.

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