The recent disappearance of Ali Reza Asgari, Iran’s former deputy defense minister who was on a visit to Istanbul has been a mystery for the past several days.
Now a report by the Arabic newspaper Al Sharq Al Wasat says that Asgari defected to the US after arriving in Istanbul from Damascus on February 7th.
Although the story has not been confirmed by any sovereign authority, it is already evident that the saga has created panic inside Ahmadinejad’s administration.
Soon after his disappearance was discovered, Iran dispatched an operations team to Ankara to help the Turkish authorities to look for him. At the same time, a public relations campaign was launched with Iranian minister Mottaki has doing his best to downplay Asgari’s importance as an official in order to reduce the damage to the Iranian government’s image.
He wasn’t fooling anyone. It is clear that Asgari is a man privy to numerous secrets which Iran desperately does not want revealed. As well as being a former deputy defence Minister, Asgari was also a General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). The IRGC, more than any other branch of Iran’s armed forces, is aware of, and has access to Iran’s nuclear program. Its members are in charge of monitoring and protecting Iran’s nuclear installations, and scientists.
Furthermore, the IRGC is in charge of developing and testing Iran’s missiles, an arsenal which Iran has threatened to use if attacked. Last but not least, the IRGC is in charge of training and arming Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iraqi Shiite militants in Iraq.
Western intelligence agencies, especially the Mossad and the CIA, have invested massive sums of money and manpower in order to ascertain Iran’s activities and capabilities in all the aforementioned areas.
So far, they have not always been successful. Iran is a relatively closed society which is extremely difficult for foreign agents to penetrate. The job is made even harder by the ruthlessness and efficiency of Iranian counter intelligence organizations, which are very active in Iran, and around Iranian individuals and bases in places such as Iraq and Lebanon.
If Asgari has defected, he will be offer great assistance to Western intelligence efforts and while he won’t be able to answer every question, would be able to fill in some crucial gaps.
Furthermore, Asgari’s disappearance is a sign that cracks are appearing in Iran’s intelligence community. The very fact that someone as senior as he was able to disappear without a trace, is in itself a signal that the regime may be losing its grip on observation and security of major human assets.
Of course, it is not yet confirmed that this was a defection – some reports have speculated that he may have been kidnapped by the Mossad or the CIA. Such reports were fuelled by accounts that Asgari first booked a room in Hotel Ceyhan, but then checked into a different hotel in Istanbul, and disappeared soon afterwards. With no records showing that he left Turkey, it was thought that he was probably smuggled out by his kidnappers. If this is the case, this would not be the first time that a kidnapping victim is smuggled out of a country without the local authority’s knowledge. In May 1960, the Mossad kidnapped and smuggled Adolph Eichmann, a former senior Nazi official out of Argentina and to Israel, where he stood trail for his crimes.
President Ahmadinejad must be hoping for this scenario, since, it turns out that Asgari indeed defected, things can only get worse.
Such an act would be interpreted as a major sign of discontent within senior Iranian military figures against his aggressive policies. With increasing dissatisfaction against Ahmadinejad emanating from Iran’s population; such a blow is something which Ahmadinejad can currently ill afford, and something that those who view him as a danger have been hoping for.
UPDATE @ 10:42 EST: “The Iranian former deputy defense minister who disappeared in neighboring Turkey last month is being questioned in a northern European country under strict supervision…. Ali Reza Asghari is undergoing thorough investigation by intelligence forces before being transferred to the United States.” (Haaretz )
Meir Javedanfar together with Yossi Melman, is the author of the upcoming book %%AMAZON=0786718870 The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran%%