Thursday, September 21, 2006

Iran’s Terror-cum-Intelligence Networks Thrown across Three Continents

While the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement nations were making speeches at the 14th conference of their movement in Havana in mid-September, three groups of intelligence experts were off in a well-guarded corner next door to talk about matters far from the conference’s main theme of how to develop backward economies and societies.

Iranian, Cuban and Venezuelan teams were putting their heads together on ways of translating their leaders' hostile rhetoric and slogans into effective war action against the United States.

DEBKAfile’s Exclusive intelligence and counter-terror sources disclose that the three teams were made up of intelligence officers and civilian officials on the staffs of the three rulers; their job is maintaining clandestine ties with underground and terrorist organizations.

After the NAM conference ended, the Iranian and Venezuelan teams moved their talks to Caracas where Ahmadinejad continued his talks with Chavez on Sept 17 and 18.

Interestingly, Iran’s Islamic revolutionary leaders have maintained warm ties of cooperation and mutual assistance with Castro’s Cuba since they came to power in Tehran in 1979. They admired his revolutionary zeal and consistent anti-US policies. Tehran also exploited Cuba’s economic straits to deepen its penetration of the country with a view to setting up an Iranian base in Cuba for its continental operations.

But the relationship suffered ups and downs, especially when Castro declined to give Iranian agents a free hand for subversion and espionage against the United States. In 2003, the Cuban ruler was furious when Iranian diplomats, without asking for permission, installed in their homes in a farm on the outskirts of Havana jamming equipment against television programs bounced from the United States through satellite to Iran. They were trying to stop Iranian opposition-backed television broadcasters in Los Angeles calling on Iranians to rise up against the Islamic regime. Castro made the Iranian diplomats evacuate the farm and remove their gear.

Castro is too old a hand to be manipulated in matters of subversion and terrorism. Chavez in contrast is just as anti-American but also rated by Tehran an easier mark. Although he needs to be handled with kid gloves as head of an oil-exporting country, the Iranians have noted that the Venezuelan leader is also open to cooperation in the politics of oil.

On Sept. 18, he insisted that Ahmadinejad attend a ceremony celebrating the gushing of the 7th Aya Well of the Kuchouy Oil Field developed by a Venezuelan-Iranian partnership. This was to be a landmark on the road to a merger between the two oil industries. Tehran is not too happy about this partnership but is going along with small, symbolic steps while extracting from Caracas – and eventually it hopes from Havana – forward facilities for running Iranian clandestine agents in North and South America.

DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report that Ahmadinejad also talked persuasively to Chavez about making a show of deploying a few Iranian-made 2,000-km range Shahab-3 missiles – first in Venezuela then in Cuba – as a menace to the United States. READ MORE

Chavez has not given Tehran his answer. But both he and Castro will think twice about granting this request, for fear of crossing one line too many for the Bush administration to swallow. However, Iranian ambitions to harm American know no limits.

The three-cornered meeting in Havana between the Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raoul Castro at the beginning of the week reached a number of decisions in principle although they remain to be fleshed out with operational details. Castro was reluctant to make final decisions because he said his brother would soon be back at the helm.

They did agree that anything decided during the Iranian and Venezuelan presidents’ Caracas talks would be put before the Cuban ruler. They also decided that their intelligence teams would meet again during the UN General Assembly session in New York later this week. After discovering this plan, Washington refused the Iranian president’s “aides – presented as journalists - entry visas to New York on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

The three-way talks have thus far yielded a solid decision for Iranian intelligence agents, some of them sabotage specialists, to be sent soon to Cuba and Venezuela. They will operate in the guise of road network and industrial development experts. Their real mission will be to conduct surveys on the practicability of using Cuba and Venezuela as bases for subversive activities against the United States and other parts of Latin America.

Iran is also busy creating similar bases in E. Africa, favoring Sudan and Somalia.

At the Havana NAM conference the Iranian president and Sudan’s Omar Bashir were seen deep in conversation. Tehran believes that the Sudanese ruler will come round now to accepting expanded military and intelligence collaboration between the two countries, whereas in 2003, he threw Iranian agents out of Sudan together with all their development specialists. Bashir is now seeking support for his Darfur policy which aims to remove pro-Western military elements from Sudan.

Iran is on the way to harnessing two more countries to its clandestine anti-US campaign: Somalia and Yemen. In Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts movement headed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is strengthening its grip on Somalia. Like Iran’s Islamic rulers, this group also preaches jihad and martyrdom (suicide attacks) for the sake of Islam.

The Somali movement therefore provides fertile ground for recruiting terrorists for suicide missions on behalf of Iran and al Qaeda alike as part of their subversion and terror campaigns across the African continent.

Mogadishu’s new rulers, whose number includes a group of middle-ranking al Qaeda commanders, are busy training an army to support their regime. Al Qaeda and Iranian Revolutionary Guards instructors are building up a corps of suiciders to attacks US embassies and Israeli targets across the continent.

The Yemeni ruler, Abdallah Salah, and his army chiefs are opposed to giving Iranian agents free rein in their country, but in the last two years, Tehran is paying Shiite extremist groups in Yemen to bring the regime under increasing pressure by acts of murder and sabotage.

Iran’s Islamic rulers believe they are in real danger of an American air attack on their nuclear installations some time in November or December this year. They are therefore pushing hard for new allies in Latin America, Africa and Arabia and points of vantage for hitting back at the United States and its centers of influence on three continents as an effective deterrent to an American attack.