From the outside, it’s come to look of late as if Israel’s intelligence agency has been tasked with an additional mission: humiliating officials of the Islamic Republic. On Saturday, April 30, Israeli media outlets reported that Mossad had apprehended and interrogated -an Iranian national – inside Iran, no less – who was leading a plot to kill three individuals. The man was identified as Mansour Rasouli, 45, apparently an Iranian Kurd from West Azerbaijan province.
Then an audio recording was published online, ostensibly featuring the voice of the apprehended man: “They told me three people had to be assassinated,” Rasouli said. “One was with the Israeli embassy in Istanbul, one was an American general in Germany and one was a journalist in France. They insisted these three be assassinated. I am remorseful. I’ll take no action, I swear on the life of my mother, the life of my daughter, the life of my family.”
No government official in Iran has acknowledged or responded to the story, although someone said to be Rasouli has since reappeared and retracted the claims (see below). The Iranian government wasn’t even the first to hear the allegations.
Hours before, Iran International had exclusively reported: “An operative of Iran's IRGC Quds Force held in a European country has admitted to plotting assassinations in Turkey, Germany and France... Sources who spoke to Iran International said the accused admitted to receiving $150,000, with one million to be paid after completion of the operation.”
Iranian State Rounds on Ethnic Minorities
The fact that this interrogation was said to have been conducted on Iranian soil, and specifically in Kurdistan, could have ramifications for Iraqi Kurdish civilians. Writers for some Iranian media outlets have speculated in the past that Iraqi Kurdistan has been used as a launchpad by Mossad; seemingly under the same impression, after the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, security forces put the Kurdish city of Baneh under siege and arrested at least 20 people.
Mossad has also been said to be making inroads via Iran’s southeastern provinces. As recently as April 21 it was reported on Iranian state TV that intelligence agents had arrested three people in Sistan and Baluchistan for releasing classified information on Mossad’s behalf. The detainees were not named and the report has not been independently verified since.
Two days later, however, gunmen in the same province opened fire on a vehicle at a checkpoint carrying the IRGC’s General Hossein Almasi. The general survived without injury but his bodyguard Mahmoud Absalan, the son of another local IRGC commander, General Parviz Absalan, was killed in the crossfire.
A Chain of Degradations
Apart from repeatedly sabotaging Iran’s nuclear installations and arresting Iranian citizens within the country’s borders, in 2018 Mossad agents stole tens of thousands of documents from the archives on Iran’s nuclear program. The warehouse raid – and its revelation to the world by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference – was a particularly mortifying moment for the Islamic Republic.
To make matters worse, that same summer Israeli intelligence also exposed a plot to bomb an annual People’s Mojahedin Organization (MEK) rally in Paris. This led to the arrest of former diplomat Asadollah Asadi and three co-conspirators, who have since been jailed in Belgium. The early detection of a number of other terrorist plots in Europe was made possible by the information Mossad gave to European authorities on this case.
These events so unnerved officials of the Islamic Republic that in June 2021, former Intelligence Minister Ali Younesi warned that Israeli infiltration in Iran was so deep that all officials of the Islamic Republic ought to fear for their lives. That same month, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed the Intelligence Ministry’s top official in charge of fighting Israeli spies had turned out to be an Israeli spy himself.
The assassination of Al Qaeda’s Number 2 man on the streets of Tehran on August 7, 2020, by Israeli operatives was another coup for the latter, even though Iranian officials tried to call it a “Hollywood fantasy”. As the New York Times affirms, “Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down on the streets of Tehran by two assassins on a motorcycle on Aug. 7... He was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden. The attack was carried out by Israeli operatives at the behest of the United States.”
A Thorn in Tehran’s Side in Syria
In the past few years Israel has continuously obstructed both the Iranian military and IRGC and their proxies in Syria. For the most part the Islamic Republic has been unable to retaliate. According to an investigation by IranWire’s Arabic team, Israel, the US, and other unknown parties struck at Iranian targets in at least 84 sites in Syria in 2021. Most of the attacks were aimed at weapons shipments and depots, military airports, warehouses and drug factories, but Israel also struck at least three sites being used to develop chemical weapins.
In a now-infamous leaked interview in 2021, former long-time Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif complained that General Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, never gave him information about Israeli raids in Syria: "It was [former US Secretary of State] John Kerry who told me Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria." For his part, John Kerry has denied the claim.
A Pincer Movement in Turkey
Before last month’s arrest for the attempted assassination, among others, of an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, in a separate incident in February Turkish intelligence thwarted an Iranian scheme to assassinate an Israeli businessman in Istanbul named Yair Geller. Eight suspects were arrested in connection with the plot, which reportedly had come about in retaliation for Mossad’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
The Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has itself reported the foiling of a number of Iranian murder plots in the past few years. Most of the targets were former Iranian military offices or members of opposition groups. In 2018, the MIT reported that it had arrested 13 people with ties to an Iranian drug lord, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, who had abducted Habib Chaab, an Iranian-Swedish political activist, founder and former leader of Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz.
In March an Israeli president visited Turkey for the first time 15 years, in a clear sign that relations between the two countries are on the mend. As such, it can be expected that intelligence services in these two countries will expand their cooperation against Tehran.
Iran and Turkey have recently been at loggerheads over a number of other issues, including the gas supply to the latter from Iraqi Kurdistan. In March, the IRGC claimed responsibility for a barrage of missiles that struck near a US consulate complex in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, claiming it had targeted an “Israeli spy center”. But Turkish officials as well as the Iraqis said they believed the attack was meant as a warning to allies of the US across the region – and that a key trigger had been a plan to pump Kurdish gas into Turkey and Europe with Israel’s involvement.
How Reliable is Information Coming From Mossad?
Last week, after the recording of Mansour Rasouli confessing to the assassination plot was published in Israeli media, a man claiming to be Rasouli appeared in another video denying the story. “It is possible that the denial video was recorded and released by Iranian intelligence,” speculates Iran International.
The “Rasouli” in this video said he was abducted by a "team of gangsters" who “pepper-sprayed me, tied my hands, blindfolded me, and drew a sack over my head” before driving him to an unknown location. In his telling, his captors then threatened to kill him and his family if he did not say he was planning to carry out the attack an Turkey on behalf of the IRGC in exchange for $150,000. He further claims his abductors took his mobile phone and might release images from it later.
His full name is reportedly Mansour Rasouli Hashemabad. Hashemabad is a village in Urmia County, = West Azerbaijan, where almost all of the around 1,000-strong population are blood relatives and belong to the same, Kurdish-speaking tribe. The video was also extensively shared n social media by people living in Salmas, West Azerbaijan, suggesting some there may have recognized him too.
Some Israeli media reports then identified Rasouli as a drug dealer working for the Revolutionary Guards. This would not be unheard of; the Islamic Republic used the drug lord Naji Sharifi Zindashti to abduct Habib Chaab in Turkey in October 2020.
Though Iranian officials have stayed tight-lipped on the case, Nour News, a program with close ties to Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, called reports on the alleged plot "a fabrication of the Zionists". Nour News also accused the BBC Persian of "running the show" and trying to "divert public attention from "Israeli crimes against Palestinians".
Hossein Dalirian, a former defense analyst with the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency, also tweeted: “Such reports are either fake or are a message to the other side’s intelligence service.” He suggested Mansour Rasouli was a double agents who had been exposed, rendering him useless save for as a sacrifice for propaganda.
The Rasouli affair coincides with the start of the second season of the Israeli TV series Tehran, which follows a Mossad agent embarking on a mission in the Iranian capital, her birthplace. Even onscreen Tehran is coming up short in its battle against Mossad, as Kayhan newspaper recently lamented: “For years now the Iranian cinema has failed to adequately produce anti-Israeli movies and series and we do not see significant productions in this field. On the other hand, the Zionist regime has created an assembly line of anti-Iranian works.”