Iran announced on Monday it had broken up a spy network linked to arch-enemy Israel’s intelligence service Mossad, accusing it of gathering information on Iranian nuclear and military programmes.
News of the arrests came amid heightened tensions between the two enemy states over Tehran’s atomic drive and just two days after Iran said it hanged an Iranian telecoms salesman convicted of spying for the Jewish state.
“The intelligence bureau of the Revolutionary Guards Corps has recently discovered a spy network linked with the Israeli Mossad,” the head of the elite force, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on state radio.
“This network sought to gather important information from the Guards’ military section, the country’s nuclear centres and some security officials,” he said, without specifying how many people were detained or where and when the group was arrested.
The announcement came ahead of a White House meeting later on Monday between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expected to focus on Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
“We have no comment to make on such non-proven reports from this country,” was all Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor would say of Jafari’s disclosure.
Israel and the United States suspect Tehran is seeking to develop an atomic bomb under the cover of its civilian nuclear programme, a charge Iran strongly denies.
Jafari said further details on the equipment and intelligence discovered during the arrest of the spy network would be revealed in the “near future.”
He said the detainees had confessed to “being trained in bombing and assassination in Israel and had bought vehicles and lots of equipment with Mossad support,” the state broadcaster’s website said.
On Saturday, Iran said it had executed telecoms salesman Ali Ashtari on November 17 for spying for Mossad for three years and warned that its intelligence wars with Israel “have become more serious.”
Tehran does not recognise Israel and tensions have been exacerbated since the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly said the Jewish state is doomed to vanish and branded the Holocaust a “myth”.
OPEC-member Iran insists its nuclear programme is only aimed at producing electricity and angrily points to Israel’s widely believed status as the sole, if undeclared, nuclear armed state in the Middle East.
Iran has always warned of a harsh response in the event of attack, threatening to hit US forces in the Gulf and close the vital oil supply route.
On Sunday, an Israeli newspaper reported that defence chiefs have called for contingency plans to be drawn up for military action against the Islamic republic, saying “Iran’s threat to Israel’s survival” was the top challenge faced by the nation, along with the “strategic threat” of long-range missiles and rockets from various countries in the region.
The defence chiefs are calling for Israel to establish a military option against Iran and advising the cabinet to “work discreetly on contingency plans to deal with a nuclear Iran,” the Haaretz newspaper reported.
The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s powerful ideological army, controls the country’s sensitive missile programme, including the long-range Shahab-3 missile, which Tehran says can reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf.
For its part, Washington is installing an advanced radar system in Israel to boost defences against any ballistic missile threat from Iran which will go operational in mid-December, Israeli army radio reported at the weekend.