Ronen Bergman
The covert war
Middle East has become espionage hub teeming with secret agents

Two counter-intelligence success stories were reported in the Middle East Monday. Counter-intelligence refers to efforts aimed at disrupting espionage attempts by the other side.


The first achievement was the Shin Bet's success in curbing a nascent attempt by the Iranian Ministry of Information (VEVAK) to use two of its agents, known by their codenames Zin'ali and Tikawi, in an effort to recruit Israeli Jews of Persian descent.


The Shin Bet's reasoning for publicizing the affair was to create deterrence and awareness amongst those traveling to visit their families in Iran, warning them against such recruitment attempts.


There is no need to exaggerate the extent of the damage caused as a result of the affair. There is no damage. Iran has already exploited

the visits of Arab Israelis in its territory or in other Arab states to recruit agents. Therefore, those leaving for Iran, including Jews, would never have been granted access to classified material. Yet despite this, the affair once again demonstrates the enormous effort Iran is making to spy on Israel. It is not only carried out via Hizbullah and it is not only aimed at terror – it is classic, strategic and in-depth espionage between two hostile countries.


A Mossad mole?

The second thwarted espionage attempt - that is, if we believe the media in Cairo – involves the Egyptian Intelligence Service's Israel section uncovering a Mossad mole operating from within the Egyptian committee for atomic energy. Is this a true story?


Notably, the details of the affair as publicized do not in the least resemble the sensational tales concerning Israel's agents frequently published in the Egyptian press (such as the Mossad's use of AIDS infected prostitutes.) This time it sounds a lot more like the classic utilization of an Israeli agent.


Moreover, during the past two years Israeli intelligence warned against initial Egyptian attempts to develop nuclear capability. It would be interesting to find out where this information came from.


Either way, publicizing the affair in Egypt also serves to deter other agents. Yet contrary to the report in Israel - which cannot really damage ties between Teheran and Jerusalem – enthusiastic elements in the Egyptian intelligence, who wanted to flout as well as ridicule Israel, can indeed inflict further damage to the relations between Cairo and Jerusalem.


These ties have already been shaken up severely following controversy surrounding the "Shaked Spirit" documentary (suggesting that soldiers of the Shaked Reconnaissance Unit, under the command of Binyamin Ben Eliezer, may have killed 250 unarmed Egyptian captives at the end of the Six-Day War).


No shots fired

The two abovementioned events, as well as other dramatic incidences that have occurred in the Middle East lately - such the disappearance of Iranian General Ali Reza-Asgari, the deaths of Iranian nuclear scientists, the disappearance of others, and the crash of an aircraft carrying revolutionary guard members – again highlight the extent to which the Middle East has become a hub teeming with secret agents operating against each other in a covert war with only a tip of it exposed.


It is a war that continues without a single shot being fired or bombs being dropped; it is a war of sophistication and guile where the victor is the side that gathers more information on the other side. We should not underestimate the importance of these affairs or the importance of the intelligence in forming the shadows of history.


Intelligence dramas have a tendency to turn into whirlwinds with political and international implications that go far beyond the question of whether the duo Zin'ali and Tikawi will succeed in recruiting that poor Jew who just wanted to visit his aunt in Isfahan.


First published: 04.18.07, 16:35
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