Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Israel, Iran Trade Threats As FBI Investigates Spying (washingtonpost.com)

Israel, Iran Trade Threats As FBI Investigates Spying (washingtonpost.com): "Israel, Iran Trade Threats As FBI Investigates Spying
U.S. Ally Said to Have Received Documents on Tehran

By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 30, 2004; Page A18

JERUSALEM, Aug. 29 -- Israel and Iran traded significantly escalated threats of military attacks in recent months as the FBI investigated allegations that a Pentagon official passed secret U.S. policy information about Iran to Israeli authorities.

Israel has warned that it could launch strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities to thwart the country's advancing weapons program. In response, Iranian Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said earlier this month: "If Israel should dare to attack our nuclear installations, we will come down on its head like a heavy hammer crushing its skull."

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Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Israeli officials have expressed more concern about the danger Iran poses and have been more emboldened in their threats to quash it. But the espionage allegations, which surfaced Friday, prompted a wave of vehement denials, political angst and disbelief among Israeli officials, intelligence experts, diplomats and other political analysts.

"It's hard to see this as such an issue of controversy or disagreement that Israel would say, 'Break all the rules because we have to find out what they're doing,' " said Yossi Alpher, a former official in the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.

The FBI is investigating whether Lawrence A. Franklin, a career analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who specializes in Iran, gave classified information to two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, according to sources. U.S. officials said the information, which included the draft of a presidential directive on U.S. policies toward Iran, was then given to Israeli officials. AIPAC has denied any wrongdoing and said its employees were cooperating with the inquiry.

Newsweek magazine reported on its Web site Sunday that FBI agents had monitored a conversation between an Israeli Embassy official and an AIPAC lobbyist at lunch nearly 18 months ago. Another American, later identified as Franklin, "walked in" during the session, according to the report. At the time the FBI was looking into possible Israeli espionage, Newsweek said.

The investigation is the second in recent months involving allegations of Israeli espionage against an ally. In July, a New Zealand court found two Israeli men, accused of being agents for the Mossad, guilty of attempting to forge New Zealand passports. Israeli officials denied that the men were members of the Mossad, but New Zealand's prime minister announced diplomatic sanctions against Israel and demanded an apology.

Michael Oren, an Israeli historian, said Israel would have very little to gain by spying on the United States "because the relationship is so open and giving."

"Israel and the United States see very much eye to eye on the Iran threat, and the intelligence cooperation is extremely close -- it's on an unprecedented level," Oren said. "Both countries perceive Iran's future acquisition of nuclear weapons as a grave threat to the region and the world, and both are committed to trying to prevent Iran from going nuclear."

For months, Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, have warned Iran that Israel was prepared to take what Mofaz called "the necessary steps" to eliminate its nuclear capability. In 1981, Israeli bombers destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in an effort to curtail then-President Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program.

In recent weeks, Israel and Iran have stepped up their rhetoric. Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told al-Jazeera Arab television network this month that "Iran is not Iraq -- we will not sit by idly if our nuclear reactor's installations are attacked."

Israeli defense and intelligence officials have said Iran's nuclear weapons development program, coupled with its Shihab-3 missile, which is capable of striking Israel, represent the most significant threat to Israel.

In a simulated test last Friday off the Californian coast, Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, which is designed to destroy or intercept short- and medium-range missiles, failed to stop a Shihab-3 and a Syrian Scud D, according to Israeli defense officials.

Analysts also said that because of AIPAC's alleged involvement, the Franklin case, if proved, could have a more damaging impact on U.S.-Israeli relations than the case of Jonathan J. Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who admitted to spying for Israel in 1987. Analysts said the case could also have a major impact on AIPAC. The group has 65,000 members "at the forefront of the most vexing issues facing Israel today: stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism and achieving peace," according to its Web site.

"The insinuation that AIPAC, an American Jewish lobby, is engaged in espionage is in some ways worse than Pollard, who as a single individual could be described as off-balance," said Alpher, the former Mossad official."

Description of Selected News

Description of Selected News: "UN resumes repatriations of Afghan, Iraqi refugees from Iran


TEHRAN (AFP) -- The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced Wednesday it had resumed repatriations of Afghan and Iraqi refugees from Iran following a suspension due to violence in the two countries.

"Thanks to the efforts made by UNHCR colleagues in Afghanistan, who are working under difficult circumstances, we are now able to facilitate the crossing of the 1,627 Afghan refugees who had been stranded at the border and complete their voluntary repatriation," said UNHCR representative Philippe Lavanchy.

UNHCR was Sunday forced to suspend the bulk of its operations to repatriate Afghan refugees from Iran following an attack on its offices in the western Afghan city of Herat.

Herat is a key transit and assistance point for around 95 percent of Afghan refugees returning home from Iran. In recent weeks, repatriations have risen as high as 4,000 people a day, but around one million Afghans remain in the Islamic republic.

Two UN buildings in Herat were attacked Sunday by demonstrators protesting the dismissal of governor Ismael Khan by the central government of President Hamid Karzai.

Although the UNHCR's offices there have been almost completely destroyed, a very limited number of UN staff are still working in the city.

In addition, Lavanchy said the UNHCR had also resumed its smaller-scale repatriations of Iraqi refugees. Operations were suspended a month ago due to heavy fighting with Shiite militiamen across southern and central Iraq.

He said 251 Iraqi returnees crossed back home via southern Iran earlier Wednesday."

Boston.com / News / World / Iran condemns assassination of its pilgrimage official in Iraq

Boston.com / News / World / Iran condemns assassination of its pilgrimage official in Iraq: "Iran condemns assassination of its pilgrimage official in Iraq
By Associated Press, 9/15/2004 17:24

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran condemned the killing of one of its civil servants in Iraq and demanded that the Iraqi government punish those responsible, state television reported on Wednesday.

Unidentified assailants killed Labib Mohammadi of Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization near the central Iraqi city of Karbala, state television said in a report carried on its Web site. It did not say when Mohammadi was killed or give further details.

''The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns the assassination ... and demands that the interim Iraqi government work seriously to identify and punish those behind this criminal act,'' the television report quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying.

The Foreign Ministry summoned the Iraqi charge d'affaires on Wednesday to protest the killing, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, has close ties to Iraq's majority Shiite population. Iranian pilgrims regularly travel to Iraq to visit Shiite Islamic shrines in Karbala and Najaf.

Tehran was happy to see the fall of Saddam Hussein, whom it blamed for the 1980-88 war with Iran, but it opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Iran now fears the United States is cementing its influence in Iraq, on its western border, and in Afghanistan, on its eastern border.

Foreign Ministry official Seyyed Rasul Mohajer criticized the lack of security for Iranians in Iraq and called for measures to rectify the situation, IRNA said.

Iraqi militant groups have taken several Iranian journalists and diplomats hostage in recent months. Most were released.

However, Faridoun Jihani, the Iranian consul in Karbala, was kidnapped while traveling between Baghdad and Karbala in early August and has not been freed. His kidnappers use the name ''Islamic Army in Iraq.'' "