This blog was the first to report last year that authorities at Israel’s Ayalon prison noted the existence of a prisoner about whom even they knew nothing, who received no visitors, was held incommnicado, had no lawyer, and was a virtual mystery. A censored Israeli news report called him “Mr. X,” a story I broke last June. Until today, we didn’t know who he is. But through a confidential Israeli source I have exposed his identity. He is a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard general and government minister under former President Khatami named Ali-Reza Asgari. Western news outlets reported in 2007 that he either defected or was kidnapped by the Mossad, with the assistance of western intelligence agencies (either the CIA or British or German intelligence depending on the source) in Istanbul. A conservative Iranian publication first reported last year that Asgari was in an Israeli prison and this was reported by AP as well. Israeli media reported he had defected, and an Israeli claiming connections to Israeli intelligence reported to me that he was living quite comfortably “in Virginia.” In hindsight, this seems a rather clumsy piece of disinformation.
Though some of the reporting may have been accurate, a good deal of what was written about his “defection” appears to have been a heady concoction devised by Mossad and others for the consumption of western media. Wikipedia reports:
The Washington Post said that Asgari was willingly cooperating with Western intelligence officials, and was providing information on Hezbollah and its Iranian connections.
Among other things, this includes information with regards to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. Asgari also smuggled out intelligence documents and maps that detail Iranian involvement with Muslim militia groups, including Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and the Iraqi Mahdi army and Badr Organization. A US intelligence official said that his defection was “orchestrated by the Israelis”, although Israeli spokesman Mark Regev denied this [ed, this wouldn’t be the first time Mark Regev lied with a straight face]. The New York Post reported that an Iranian dissident group helped plan the defection and is negotiating with Western intelligence agencies for a “permanent place of exile”.
…According to The Sunday Telegraph, Asgari’s defection was part of a CIA program called “the Brain Drain”, which began in 2005 and later netted Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri.
…Yediot Aharonot reported that Asgari told US interrogators that Iran is secretly attempting to enrich uranium with a combination of lasers and chemicals at a weapons facility in Natanz; this would act as a backup if the publicly known facilities and activities were stopped by sanctions or military strikes. Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman expanded upon this reporting in his book The Secret War with Iran, in which he stated that Asgari had not only supplied the information regarding lasers, but had also revealed that a second site for centrifuges had been built near the principal Natanz site, and that a Syrian nuclear program, developed with North Korean help, was being paid for by Iran.
Al Jareeda reported that Asgari provided information for the Israeli airstrike on September 6 in Syria, code-named Operation Orchard; this was echoed by the intelligence group Stratfor, which reported that Asgari “gave Israel the intelligence on Syria’s missile program needed for the Syrian airstrike.” In March 2009, Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported that after defecting, Asgari told the U.S. about the secret Syrian nuclear reactor, built in partnership with North Korea and with Iranian financing. This was reportedly the first time the U.S. and Israel were alerted of the project.
Until now we didn’t know Asgari was Prisoner X, which means we know where he is being held by Israel as well. Until now, we also did not have confirmation from an Israeli source that that country held Asgari. My information would seem to give the lie to the claim of defection. A man who defects isn’t held in a maximum security prison cell. If in fact at one time Asgari was a defector, it would appear that he is not one now. I doubt he is being held incommunicado by the Israelis for his health.
By the way, this cell in Ayalon’s Unit 15, is the same one specially built to hold Yigal Amir, assassin of Yitzhak Rabin. In other words, it is meant to isolate the prisoner from the outside world and the rest of the prison system.
One wonders whether Asgari has worn out his welcome, exhausted his usefulness, or somehow brooked his Israeli spy handlers. What would cause them to throw him in a maximum security prison if he indeed “sang” so well for his supper as Israel claims?
The AP story notes a German source confirming Asgari provided a treasure trove of valuable intelligence to the Israelis:
Hans Ruehle, a former chief of the planning staff of the German Defense Ministry, wrote in a Swiss newspaper in March that Asgari told the West that Iran was financing North Korean steps to transform Syria into a nuclear weapons power, leading to an Israeli airstrike that targeted a site in Syria on Sept. 6, 2007.
…Ruehle said Asgari, who was instrumental in establishing the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, “changed sides” and provided information to the West on Iran’s own nuclear program.
…Iranian officials have said Asgari was not linked to Iran’s nuclear program, but Western media reports have said he has cooperated with U.S. intelligence and is considered a “high value” defector.
…Ziba Ahmadi, one of Asgari’s two wives, claimed at the time that her husband did not defect to Turkey and she believed “some evidence” showed he was abducted.
Recently, Asgari’s wife and family released a statement reported in the Iranian press:
The family of Alireza Asgari, [Iran’s] former deputy defense minister who was kidnapped four years ago, presented a letter to the Turkish Ambassador [to Iran] and asked that his disappearance be investigated. Ziba Ahmadi, wife of Asgari, said that four years have passed since her husband was kidnapped, and said to IRNA that in the letter that she presented to Turkey’s ambassador she requested that her husband’s case be pursued.
Emphasizing that the Turkish government must do more about Asgari’s case, she said that “we are are certain that he was kidnapped in Istanbul, Turkey.” Ahmadi said that the intelligence agency of the Zionist Regime has been involved in Asgari’s kidnapping, and said that she has asked Turkish officials to put more pressure on the Zionist regime [regarding the case].
Most of the world believes that the souring of relations between Israel and Turkey occurred as a result of the Gaza war and the subsequent Mavi Marmara massacre. In fact, this abduction on Turkish soil can’t have endeared Israel to the Turkish government and certainly is an added factor in Turkish disenchantment with Israel.
An Israeli human rights NGO has already demanded that Prisoner X be accorded the same rights that any security prisoner is accorded in the Israeli prison system. So it is appropriate to renew this demand at this time, now that we know who the prisoner is. Just because is a high-level Iranian officer does not mean he can be held forever without rights. Israel must give some accounting of him, explain to Iran why it is holding him and what it intends to do with him. If he is a defector then Israel should allow him to live freely. If he is a prisoner, then Israel must either try him for whatever his crimes might be or release him. I would remind Israel that a democracy does not hold its enemies in such fashion. It gives due process, legal rights, fair trial, etc.
UPDATE: Another Israeli academic I know with ties to a prominent Israeli reporter who he would not name, who it turn has close ties with the Mossad, claims Asgari is not in Ayalon Prison. While there is a possibility my source was provided with false information upon which this story is based, I strongly doubt it and stand by the story. Not the least of the reasons for my doubt of the Israeli reporter, who claims to know who REALLY is in Ayalon Prison’s Unit 15, is that he won’t come forward with that information, while my source will.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.