“Israel is playing with fire. It gets us involved in their covert war, whether we want to be involved or not.”
Reports about US covert support for Jundallah appeared in 2007 and 2008, including in ABC News and New Yorker articles.The issue has now returned to the spotlight with the string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and has outraged serving and retired intelligence officers who fear that Israeli operations are endangering American lives.
Agents with Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency posed as American CIA agents in operations to recruit members of Jundallah, the Pakistan-based militant group, to conduct the Jewish state’s ‘covert, bloody, and ongoing campaign’ against Iran, a report in an influential US magazine said.
“It’s amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with,” a US intelligence officer told the Foreign Policy about the operations that took place in London.
“Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn’t give a damn what we thought,” the official was quoted as saying in the report citing memos from 2007 and 2008.
The Israelis, “flush with American dollars and toting US passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives - what is commonly referred to as a ‘false flag’ operation,” the report by Mark Perry, an author and historian, said. According to the report, this information reached the CIA then Director of Operations Stephen Kappes, his deputy Michael Sulick, and the head of the Counterintelligence Center. Making its way to the White House, former President George Bush ‘went absolutely ballistic’ when briefed on its contents, according to the currently serving US intelligence officer. The report said the CIA and the White House were both asked for comment on the Israeli operations, but they did not respond. The Mossad was also contacted, in writing and by telephone, but failed to respond, the report said.
“There is no denying that there is a covert, bloody, and ongoing campaign aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear programme, though no evidence has emerged connecting recent acts of sabotage and killings inside Iran to Jundallah,” the US intelligence officer was quoted as saying. Many reports have cited Israel as the architect of this covert campaign, which claimed its latest victim on Jan 11 when a motorcyclist in Tehran slipped a magnetic explosive device under the car of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a young Iranian nuclear scientist. The explosion killed Roshan, making him the fourth scientist assassinated in the past two years. The United States adamantly denied it is behind these killings. Israel’s relationship with Jundallah, which operates from Pakistan’s Balochistan province, continued to roil the Bush administration until the day it left office, this same intelligence officer noted. Israel’s activities jeopardised the administration’s fragile relationship with Pakistan, which was coming under intense pressure from Iran to crack down on Jundallah. It also undermined US claims that it would never fight terror with terror, and invited attacks in kind on US personnel, the report said.
“It’s easy to understand why Bush was so angry,” a former intelligence officer was quoted as saying. “After all, it’s hard to engage with a foreign government if they’re convinced you’re killing their people. Once you start doing that, they feel they can do the same.”
A senior administration official vowed to ‘take the gloves off’ with Israel, according to a US intelligence officer. But the United States did nothing - a result that the officer attributed to ‘political and bureaucratic inertia’.
“In the end,” the officer noted, “it was just easier to do nothing than to, you know, rock the boat.” Even so, at least for a short time, this same officer noted, the Mossad operation sparked a divisive debate among Bush’s national security team, pitting those who wondered “just whose side these guys [in Israel] are on” against those who argued that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The debate over Jundallah was resolved only after Bush left office when, within his first weeks as president, Barack Obama drastically scaled back joint US-Israel intelligence programmes targeting Iran, the report said citing serving and retired officers.
The decision was controversial inside the CIA, where officials were forced to shut down “some key intelligence-gathering operations,” a recently retired CIA officer confirmed to Foreign Policy. This action was followed in November 2010 by the State Department’s addition of Jundallah to its list of foreign terrorist organisations - a decision that one former CIA officer called ‘an absolute no-brainer’.
Since Obama’s initial order, US intelligence services have received clearance to cooperate with Israel on a number of classified intelligence-gathering operations focused on Iran’s nuclear programme, according to a currently serving officer. These operations are highly technical in nature and do not involve covert actions targeting Iran’s infrastructure or political or military leadership.
“We don’t do bang and boom,” a recently retired intelligence officer claimed. “And we don’t do political assassinations.”
Founded in 2002, Jundallah says it is fighting for the rights of the Sunni minority in Shia-majority Iran. Believed to have 1,000 fighters, the group is dedicated to defending the rights of Iran’s two-million Baluchi minority.
Jundallah head Abdolmalek Rigi was captured by Iran in February 2010. Although initial reports claimed that he was captured by the Iranians after taking a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan, a retired intelligence officer with knowledge of the incident told Foreign Policy that Rigi was detained by Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan. The officer said that Rigi was turned over to the Iranians after the Pakistani government informed the United States that it planned to do so, the report said. The United States, this officer said, did not raise objections to the Pakistani decision, it added.
Iran, meanwhile, has consistently claimed that Rigi was snatched from under the eyes of the CIA, which it alleges supported him. “It doesn’t matter,” the former intelligence officer said of Iran’s charges. “It doesn’t matter what they say. They know the truth.”
Rigi was interrogated, tried, and convicted by the Iranians and hanged on June 20, 2010. Prior to his execution, Rigi claimed in an interview with Iranian media that he had doubts about US sponsorship of Jundallah. He recounted an alleged meeting with ‘NATO officials’ in Morocco in 2007 that raised his suspicions. “When we thought about it we came to the conclusion that they are either Americans acting under NATO cover or Israelis,” he said.
Baluchis have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens and international human rights organisations say they are subject to economic and cultural discrimination.
Last July it claimed responsibility for attacking the Grand Mosque in the provincial capital Zahedan, reportedly targeting members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, killing 28 people.
The news infuriated American officials who felt that Israel ‘false flag’ operations could endanger Americans lives, according to the report.
“This certainly isn’t the first time this has happened, though it’s the worst case I’ve heard of,” former Centcom chief and retired Gen Joe Hoar said of the Israeli operation upon being informed of it. “But while false-flag operations are hardly new, they’re extremely dangerous. You’re basically using your friendship with an ally for your own purposes.
The Mossad activities were expected to further jeopardise the already tense relationship of the United States with Pakistan. “This was stupid and dangerous,” the intelligence official who first reported the operation to Foreign Policy magazine said.
“Israel is supposed to be working with us, not against us.
“If they want to shed blood, it would help a lot if it was their blood and not ours. You know, they’re supposed to be a strategic asset.”
Trump and South Asia
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