The West has scored an intelligence coup with the defection of key Iranian intelligence official Ali Rez Asgari:
Former Mossad director Danny Yatom, who is now a member of Israel’s parliament, said he believes Asgari defected to the West. “He is very high-caliber,” Yatom said. “He held a very, very senior position for many long years in Lebanon. He was in effect commander of the Revolutionary Guards” there.
Ram Igra, a former Mossad officer, said Asgari spent much of the 1980s and 1990s overseeing Iran’s efforts to support, finance, arm and train Hezbollah. The State Department lists the Shiite Lebanese group as a terrorist organization.
“He lived in Lebanon and, in effect, was the man who built, promoted and founded Hezbollah in those years,” Igra told Israeli state radio. “If he has something to give the West, it is in this context of terrorism and Hezbollah’s network in Lebanon.”
The Iranians are blaming the Mossad for Asgari’s defection, while the Mossad is saying the US was behind it, and the US is saying nothing. In reality, it was probably a joint operation. Mr. Asgeri is a partisan of the more reform-minded elements in the Iranian regime such as the former President Mohammad Khatami. It is quite likely that he had reason to fear the Ahmadinejad regime might turn on him, so he decided that his best bet was to defect. However, his actual reasoning may not be known for some time.
Whatever his motivations, Asgari’s defection is a major blow to the Iranians and a major victory for the US, Israel, and Lebanon. He has critical information on Iranian involvement with Hizballah, and was likely involved at a high level in Iran’s attempts to spread their interest across the globe. No doubt the information that Mr. Asgari has will be of some use to Western intelligence agencies who are probing how Iran supplies Hizballah fighters and Iraqi insurgents with the latest military hardware.
While Mr. Asgari was not involved in the Iranian nuclear program, his defection has got to be causing headaches all over Tehran. Ahmadinejad is politically compromised by his domestic opponents, and now he has to wonder how many others in the Iranian government may be secretly working to undermine him. That kind of paranoia can quickly have ripple effects throughout the corridors of power in Tehran.
Mr. Asgari made a brave move by choosing to assist the West in undermining Iran’s support of terrorism across the region. It is clear that there is a significant wellspring of domestic opposition to the Ahmadinejad regime, and the West should be reaching out to reformist elements as much as possible in order to undercut Ahmadinejad and the other radicals. Even if we can’t get a government in Iran that’s openly friendly to the West, a government that is not a state sponsor of terrorism and is not interested in provoking genocide would be a crucial step towards defusing the situation threatening to explode the Middle East in region-wide war.