Arash Alaei and Kamiar Alaei
Thomas Erdbrink relayed that,
He [the Iranian Intelligence Ministry's Counter-Terrorism Unit's head] described a "full-fledged intelligence war" between the two nations and offered rare, detailed comments about what he described as "heavy damages" suffered by the United States in efforts to recruit agents... in Iran....The Iranian intelligence agent got at least one thing right: it was unlikely that the U.S. was organising a coup by fashion designers.
[There has been] an alleged U.S.-funded plot to overthrow the Islamic government.... "They contacted people we didn't expect to be of their interest: fashion designers, doctors, professors, clerics, athletes and artists.... [T]hey would be asked about passive air defense, infrastructure centers and the intelligence situation."
Iran convicted four people of plotting a coup. Two of them were physicians for HIV/AIDS treatment, brothers Arash Alaei and Kamiar Alaei. They extended their work to include pastoral as well as medical care, with vulnerable, high-risk, socially-excluded groups like drug addicts and prostitutes.
Amongst others, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Amnesty International (AI) and the European Union (EU) all demand the release of the Alaeis. Assuming they're right (as I am assuming), the brothers were doctors, not insurgents. Iran's conviction was either paranoid or cynical, and its conviction of doctors exposing a socially unacceptable part of Iranian society would suggest it was cynical.
The secret proxy war between the U.S. and Iran
Yet the U.S. is conducting covert operations in Iran. British security experts and American journalists affirm that there is a secret proxy war between the United States and Iran.
"Iran has been sponsoring anti-U.S. groups in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. As late ago as 2005, the U.S. has been sponsoring anti-Iranian groups in Iran -- particularly in the southern provinces on the eastern side where a population that is not homogeneous or acquiescent to the rule in Tehran is able to be co-opted with money and with weapons."(They mean the oppressed minority Kurds and Baluchis and the Kurdish PJAK and Baluchi Jondollah militias, although Iranian Press TV has relayed a Turkish Akşam report that PJAK have given up their struggle for an independent Kurdish state.)
(Seymour Hersch and) Andrew Cockburn pointed out that Democrats and Republicans agreed upon a secret directive legalising
full support for the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, the cultish Iranian opposition group, despite its enduring position on the State Department's list of terrorist groups....[,] Jundullah, or "army of god," the militant Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan.... [and] Iranian Kurdish nationalists, as well the Ahwazi arabs [sic] of south west Iran.Perhaps, then, the Iranian regime's persecution of the Alaeis is paranoid, rather than cynical. (Either way, it is wrong.)
The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations note 'U.S. officials say Iran mostly backs Islamist groups, including the Lebanese Shiite militants of Hezbollah... and such Palestinian terrorist groups as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.... [and Iraqi] insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces.'
As the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) noted, the Iranian weapons in Iraq are 'emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers - hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain "plausible deniability"'. FAS suggests the alternatives that 'rogue elements within the Iranian government or well-connected private arms traffickers' might be responsible.
Often, Iran has actually been instrumental in establishing ceasefires and truces in Iraq, so it is plausible that Iranian aid to insurgents in Iraq is an Iranian deep state operation rather than an Iranian state policy. Nevertheless, the Iranian state may have simply calculated that trapping the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan prevents U.S. regime change in Iran.
Apparently, there is a secret war - but do its supply lines run through Cyprus?
Cyprus, between America and Iran
Most recently, and most interestingly here, Pauline Jelinek reported that,
The U.S. military intercepted and searched an Iranian-owned ship that officials feared was carrying arms to the militant group[s] Hamas [and Hezbollah, or Syria], but two officials said it was unclear Thursday whether those suspicions were founded.The Tamil Tigers are known to smuggle arms through Cyprus and South-West Asia, so it could have been one of their operations. [But the ship being not only Cypriot-flagged, but also Russian-owned, suggests that it's a more local business. Everyone involved wanted a behind-the-scenes resolution, which affirms that it's local. Now it's known that the ship was 'carrying banned weapons material from Iran prohibited under United Nations resolutions', but there is the intriguing new question, 'why a Cyprus-flagged vessel would come into Cypriot territorial waters—where it was bound to be checked'.]
The [Russian-owned] Cypriot-flagged commercial vessel was tracked by a U.S. Navy ship in the Red Sea over the weekend, one official said. It was boarded and searched with the consent of the vessel's crew on Monday and Tuesday, said another....
One official said the two-day search turned up ammunition that included artillery shells; and since Hamas is not known to use artillery, officials are now uncertain who the intended recipient was.
It's known that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) has infiltrated the PKK, that the PKK smuggles heroin from Iran, that Iranian networks smuggle heroin through southern Cyprus and that the PKK has a presence in southern Cyprus, too. (That is known because, while Iranian companies registered in Cyprus were smuggling oil out of Iraq, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was smuggling cigarettes from Cyprus into Iraq.)
As for Iranian-backed Islamist extremist groups, Islamic Jihad also has a presence in southern Cyprus, Lebanese Hezbollah smuggles cell members and weapons through southern Cyprus, and the PKK smuggles heroin through southern Cyprus for Lebanese Hizbullah. (Elsewhere, I've presented these networks in the drugs-and-antiquities trade and that trade through Cyprus in more detail.)
These illicit trades would finance the Iranian networks' activities, copying CIA/NATO arms-for-drugs traffic. In fact, Iran used to receive equipment through NATO's arms-for-drugs trade, so the only things that have changed are whom NATO's supplying and whom Iran's being supplied by. The networks are definitely established.
Everything suggests that some supply lines for the secret proxy war between the U.S. and Iran run through both sides of Cyprus. There is some hope that this war might subside. The U.S. and Iraq have acknowledged that (whether state or deep state), Iran has reduced support for insurgents (and it has actually continued to coordinate truces); and the Obama administration and Iranian enthusiasm might enable a settlement. But there is still the threat that the U.S. and Iran could approach open confrontation.
[Updated on the 2nd, 6th and 8th of February 2009.]