Tonight, another one of those stranger-than-fiction spy yarns that seem all too common for Israeli intelligence. It begins with the last days of the Shah, when he appointed as prime minister, Shapur Bakhtiar. After the 1979 Revolution, Bakhtiar went into exile and ended up in France. In those days, bloodletting was fierce both within Iran, where the MeK and regime murdered tens of thousands of their respective enemies; and outside, where regime assassins traveled the world attempting to eliminate enemies of the State. One of these was Bakhtiar, whose family was targeted numerous times for kidnapping or death. During one failed attempt, two French policemen were killed and a neighbor was also murdered. Shapur’s grandson, Jahanshah, was in the apartment and describes his horror at seeing a corpse for the first time at such a young age. Later, in 1991, the regime succeeded in killing his grandfather. As a result, his every waking moment since then has been devoted to getting revenge.
To that end, he volunteered himself as an agent for the CIA and was trained by its Middle East station chief. They created a narrative that would persuade the Iranians to trust his political conversion. But given the young Bakhtiar’s traumatic personal history, it’s almost unfathomable that Iran was fooled when he presented himself as a businessman who would do sanctions-skirting deals that would provide hundreds of millions for Iranian nuclear and military projects. Admittedly, he offered a highly desirable commodity, cold hard cash by the truckload. It’s easy to be fooled by someone with a good story when you desperately need what they are selling. But shouldn’t that have caused more than a little skepticism: if a deal appears too good to be true, it is.
I haven’t read his new book (French), which would explain Bakhtiar’s segue from working for the CIA to working for the Mossad (Hebrew). But at another point, he met an Israeli in Africa and offered himself as a spy on Israel’s behalf. With his Mossad handlers he created another identity, with his cover as a businessman selling excavation equipment. He was sent to Turkey where he began recruiting young Iranians for covert operations. To test their mettle, he would send them to the border where he’d ask them to surveil Iranian transports carrying goods into Iran. If they passed this test, he passed them to a Mossad operative who trained them to become assassins. Bakhtiar claims that six of his recruits were key figures in the assassination campaign waged by the Mossad against Iran’s nuclear scientists, which killed five of them.
My Israeli source confirms Bakhtiar’s claim to be a Mossad agent and his role in Turkey and the assassinations. I remember when I reported the assassinations and was one of the few journalists who initially would say definitively that the Mossad (and MeK) were collaborators in this deadly project. At the time, some doubted native Iranians would’ve participated in such a campaign. But Bakhtiar, if his claims are to be believed, provided the key ingredient that allowed the Mossad to do precisely this in Turkey.
Two developments shut down Bakhtiar’s operation: the first was the Obama administration’s order to Israel to stop killing Iranians and end the Stuxnet-type cyber-attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The second was Turkey’s exposure of the Israeli spy operation. Coming on the heels of Israel’s disastrous Mavi Marmara massacre of ten Turkish citizens, the exposure of the spy den made it even harder for Israel and Turkey to reconcile. Even four years after the attack and one year after the blow-up of the spy ring, the two countries seem almost as far apart as ever (despite periodic murmurings that a rapprochement is imminent).
Bakhtiar is a man without a cause, or more properly a man without a paymaster. He’s been cut loose by the CIA and Mossad (though in the accompanying Post article he pathetically offers himself once again for any mission the agency might have for him). This book and accompanying promotional campaign will offer his the self-validation he desperately seeks. Before he could claim he was a warrior for the old regime. Now, he’s a footnote of history. Largely irrelevant. Soon to be forgotten.
Finally, if I hadn’t actually heard from my source that he was a Mossad agent, Bakhtiar’s rabid anti-regime rhetoric would leave me highly skeptical that he could persuade anyone he was actually an ally of the regime. He calls Ayatollah Khamenei a “psychopath.” He natters on about Iran’s most devout wish being to become a WMD state. His political views are about as reactionary as they come. He’s clearly still a Shah-acolyte, whose devotion is fueled by extreme bitterness at the price he and his family had to pay for such devotion.
It’s no accident that Israeli media are showing Bakhtiar the royal treatment. For years, Israeli intelligence rolled out the red carpet for Iranian agents like Bakhtiar. I’ve written about a few of these characters here. It appeals to an Israeli population eager to be deceived about the nature of contemporary Iran and its government. A nation full of uncertainty, fear and insecurity like Israel grasps at straws when it comes to identifying friends. When it finds them it latches onto them and holds on for dear life. The truth is that these dubious figures are all emigres for whom the real Iran is a distant memory. They filter Iran through a gauzy nostalgic haze of recollection and rumor. They know about as much about today’s Iran as I know about brain surgery. It is truly a shame that Israelis see these people as authentic representatives of Iran. They are frauds, just as Israel’s current approach to Iran is an ineffectual fraud.