The Kabuki-like drama of the suicide/murder of Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Ali Reza Asgari in Ayalon Prison continues to deepen. Today, Ynetnews reports that the IDF circulated an unprecedented warning letter to all reserve officers warning them that Iranian agents might take revenge on them inside Israel or abroad.
What’s astonishing about this is that until now Israelis could always count on being immune to retaliatory domestic terror attacks from foreign enemies like Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, etc. Israel was impregnable from that perspective. Palestinian terror attacks have of course happened. But they were indiscriminate, and except in very rare instances did not kill senior IDF officers or political leaders. But now even Israel is conceding that it is not as inviolate as it previously believed.
The rationale for the warning letter makes very little sense unless you read between the lines and know about my own reporting on Asgari’smurder . Here’s how Ynet portrays it:
Israel Defense Forces reserve officers are urged to take extra precautions following the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists: A detailed letter was sent Wednesday to a series of reserve officers, instructing them how to conduct themselves in Israel and abroad.
The officers were asked to replace the supermarket they shop in frequently and to avoid travelling on regular routes. The procedures are aimed at thwarting an attempt by terrorist organizations to target these people, some of whom are still holding key roles in the military reserve force.
The letter, signed by Brigadier-General Kobi Barak, head of operations at the General Staff, explains that the increased fear stems from recent events, including the death of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran last month.
Barak also mentioned the February 2008 assassination of senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mugniyah in an explosion in Damascus, after which the Shiite group’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah vowed to avenge his death.
He noted that last month a pro-Palestinian organization published the personal details of some 200 officers and soldiers who took part in Operation Cast Lead, claiming that they were war criminals. Some of them even had threatening letters sent to their homes.
Brigadier-General Barak called on the officers to brief their family members on the situation and pay attention to any suspicion vehicles, unusual activity or unknown people wandering near their homes. The officers were also asked to “disrupt their routine,” which Barak defined as “our weak point”. According to the document, the officers must avoid repeating activities over time, like travelling on the same traffic routes or shopping for groceries at the same place.
The letter advises the officers to check their cars in the morning before driving them, examine their mail and avoid accepting unexpected packages. When they are abroad, the officers are urged not to stay in hotels defense officials are not familiar with and to reserve rooms which are not located next to the elevator or staircase.
Here’s where the Kabuki comes in. It makes no sense for a letter to warn IDF officers about Iranian attacks on them in retaliation for events which happened months to years ago. And in the case of the Cast Lead veterans list, it wasn’t compiled by or distributed by Iran, nor did it threaten any IDF veteran with violence.
Even in the case of the recent assassination and severe wounding of two Iranian scientists, Iran blamed Israel but never overtly threatened to take revenge.
No, for the real reason motivating this warning I believe you have to look to the suicide/murder of Asgari reported here in the past few days. While Iran certainly would be angry with killings of its nuclear scientists, the outright murder of one of its generals and senior ministers would rankle even more since Israel kidnapped him, likely tortured him and drained him of whatever useful intelligence he might offer concerning his work as liaison to Hezbollah and more, then possibly murdered him in a dark Israeli prison. For those who understand the outpouring of emotion and trauma that accompanied the capture and eventual death in captivity of IAF pilot Ron Arad (an event Israel believed Asgari played some role in), imagine the average Iranian feeling the same sense of national outrage.
This news, Israel fears, will truly provoke a violent reaction in Teheran. Hence the warning letter.
There are a few other interesting phenomena to note regarding the letter. Assuming Asgari was murdered, what better way to deflect blame and attention both within Israel and abroad than to warn of an imminent (trumped-up) revenge terror attack planned by Iran. There is nothing like a terror warning to make Israelis scramble into their personal and ideological bunkers. When the security apparatus engages in such domestic hasbara, it diverts the average Israeli from spending any time thinking that the Mossad, Shabak or Aman may be corrupt or homicidal, or that its flagrant, bellicose actions might threaten a war with Iran.
The warning letter is thus a form of domestic psyops designed to work on the Israeli population. It is also designed to have a similar effect internationally. If the Israeli defense establishment warns of an impending attack by Iran, the Israelis will be hoping that everyone will rally round the flag to defend little David under attack by big, bad Goliath Iran.
Perhaps most importantly, it also serves to deflate any pressure on Israel to account for Asgari. If the former can persuade the world it is in imminent danger of attack, then no one in their right mind would charge Israel with murder and demand that it explain what happened to Asgari, how he ended up in Ayalon Prison, or how he died. Yes, this is a rather clever piece of psyops. I hope it won’t work. And I hope we and the world media can keep the pressure on and press for answers.
Iran’s Press TV reports that the country’s defense minister has denounced the death of Asgari and attributed it to Israel:
Iran’s defense minister says the suspected death of Iranian prisoner Ali-Reza Asgari in an Israeli prison is another test for those who internationally advocate human rights.
If the credibility of this report is proved, the dossier on Israel’s kidnappings, assassinations and murders will become thicker, Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said on Wednesday.
“This inhumane action is another test for the international community which advocates human rights,” he added.
Vahidi said Asgari’s abduction by Israel’s intelligence service is certain, adding that after kidnapping the Iranian national, the Israelis tried to cover up their action by spreading the rumor that he had sought asylum in a third country.
The Iranian defense minister said Iran would use all its capabilities and capacities to determine Asgari’s fate. Vahidi said that such actions only serve to create public hatred for the US and Britain, which are the main supporters of Israel.
Unlike yesterday’s statement by a deputy foreign minister, the more senior defense minister was slightly more circumspect in allowing for the fact that my report may be wrong. But he clearly placed enough stock in it to make the declaration he did.
It’s worth noting that Yossi Melman devotes part of today’s Haaretz column, called suggestively The Prison Service Covering for Mossad [Wrongdoing], to debunking the claim that Asgari ever came to Israel willingly as a defector or against his will. But he goes on to scold the Mossad for being unwilling to reveal its secrets even when they do damage to Israel’s reputation. This passage (from the English translation, which is flawed and incomplete but at least accurate in this portion) in particular struck me:
It would be better were Israel to realize that in some cases the publication of information, no matter how inconvenient and painful it might be to a government body, is preferable to concealing it and allowing an irresponsible, damaging rumor mill to grind on.
Even Melman the skeptic is claiming there is a hidden truth here the Mossad refuses to reveal because it will injure its reputation. Reading between the lines, Melman seems to be saying that someone died at the hands of the Mossad, but that it wasn’t Asgari. This certainly raises many more questions than it answers. Stay tuned…
NOTE: Apparently, some international news agencies have picked up my reporting through its republication in the Eurasia Review. Unfortunately, ER did not properly link to, or credit this blog as the original source of the story. As a result it is not being properly credited in some media circles.
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.