Israel’s Naval Shadow War with Iran Comes Out into the Open

April 9 2021

Wednesday night, Israeli planes struck a weapons depot outside Damascus, reportedly killing three pro-Iran fighters. While such attacks have become both routine and widely known, the IDF has also been fighting the Islamic Republic at sea, a fact only recently brought to public attention because of an explosion on an Iranian military vessel on Tuesday. Ron Ben Yishai explains:

The vessel that was hit, the Saviz, is actually a floating naval base for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Red Sea, off the coasts of Yemen and Djibouti—whatever Iran says to the contrary. . . . The Saviz was actually in the area to protect Iranian ships in the Red Sea and to grant fast-moving Revolutionary Guard commando boats freedom of movement. . . . These boats are kept onboard the Saviz for use by the commando forces who protect Iranian oil tankers and vessels smuggling weapons as they make their way to Syria and Lebanon through the Suez Canal.

The vessel also acts as an intelligence base, monitoring Saudi vessels that are enforcing a maritime embargo on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching them.

The attack marks an escalation in the ongoing covert war being waged at sea between Israel and Iran. Its aim was threefold: to retaliate for an Iranian attack on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Arabian Sea last month; to show the Iranians that Israel has the upper hand in the waters of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and that Tehran would be wise to . . . end efforts to smuggle oil and arms to Syria and Lebanon; [and] to clarify to the United States that Israel will continue its relentless fight against Iran’s subversive actions in the region, whether it is in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, or Yemen—even if the U.S. is attempting to rebuild relations with the Islamic Republic.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, US-Israel relations

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy