Last week I reported on the arrest of Ali Mansouri (AKA Alex Mans), an Iranian-Belgian national, by Israeli authorities after he was caught setting up fronts and photographing sensitive sites, including the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The arrest was predictably denounced by Tehran as a sham, “a repetitive scenario by the Zionist regime,” but Israel sticks by its story, though it’s been noted by less biased sources that the announcement of the arrest was approved at the highest levels in Israel.
Today more important details about the case have been revealed in The Jerusalem Post by a former senior officer of the Israeli Security Service (SHABAK), an account which amplifies the counterintelligence details of the Mansouri/Mans operation considerably and shows that Iran’s espionage-terrorism threat is on the rise.
In particular, SHABAK is concerned because, although Israel has been targeted by Iranian agents in recent years, including many third-country passport holders like Mansouri/Mans, those have normally come from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS, VEVAK in Persian), the new suspect’s ties to the IRGC’s elite Qods Force indicates a new set of problems, as the Qods Force is charged with terrorism, not just espionage, abroad, including numerous attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in several countries.
As I reported before, Mansouri/Mans was in Israel spotting potential terrorism targets and setting up a front infrastructure for IRGC/QF operations in the country, which heretofore has been something of a denied area for Tehran’s spies. SHABAK considered this new infiltrator’s cover to be relatively sophisticated but they caught him nevertheless; it’s apparent Mansouri/Mans had been on the radar of Israeli counterintelligence well before his arrest on 11 September.
This case demonstrates that SHABAK continues to be the proficient security service it has been for decades, and Israeli intelligence in general has a better handle on the Iranian “special war” threat than just about anyone. That said, the Mansouri/Mans operation indicates that the Iranians have a learning curve too, and their tradecraft is improving. Since the Pasdaran does more than just espionage, this is troubling turn of events that Western counterintelligence and counterterrorism services and experts ignore at their peril.