A US official suggested Thursday that the disappearance of Iranian general Ali Rez Asgari was voluntary and orchestrated by Israel, according to a Washington Post report published Thursday.
The Post quoted another senior US official as saying that the former Iranian deputy defense minister, who once commanded the Revolutionary Guards, is providing Western intelligence agencies with information on Hizbullah and Iran's ties to the organization.
The senior US official told the newspaper that Asgari, who disappeared last month during a visit to Turkey, is willingly cooperating.
An Iranian official told the newspaper that Iranian intelligence is unsure of Asgari's whereabouts but that he may have been offered money, probably by Israel, to leave the country.
The Israeli government denied any connection to Asgari. "To my knowledge, Israel is not involved in any way in this disappearance," Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the Post as saying.
He did not divulge Asgari's whereabouts, but the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday quoted an Iranian military official as saying that Asgari is staying in a northern European country, where he is receiving “excellent treatment.”
According to the Washington Post, Asgari's background as a top Iranian Defense Ministry official suggests that he would have deep knowledge of Iran's national security infrastructure, conventional weapons arsenal and ties to Hizbullah in south Lebanon.
'He held a very, very senior position'
The newspaper quoted former Mossad officers as saying that Asgari had been instrumental in the founding of Hizbullah in the 1980s, around the time of the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut.
Former Mossad director Danny Yatom, who is now a member of Knesset, told the Washington Post he believes Asgari defected to the West.
"He is very high-caliber," Yatom was quoted as saying. "He held a very, very senior position for many long years in Lebanon. He was in effect commander of the Revolutionary Guards" there.