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    What is Iran’s game with allegedly caught CIA-Mossad agent? – analysis

    Why have its public pronouncements been so disjointed, and what is the purpose of continuing to allow trickles of seemingly new details of a case which reportedly is more than half a year old?

    ranians burn U.S and Israeli flags as they gather to mourn General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran January 4, 2020 (photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE/WANA VIA REUTERS)

    ranians burn U.S and Israeli flags as they gather to mourn General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran January 4, 2020

    (photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE/WANA VIA REUTERS)

    Since last week, Iran has issued three different statements, some contradictory, about its capture of an alleged spy for the CIA and the Mossad connected to efforts to gather information about former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani.

    Why have its public pronouncements been so disjointed, and what is the purpose of continuing to allow trickles of seemingly new details of a case which reportedly is more than half a year old?

    At first, Iran implied that the alleged spy had been directly involved in Soleimani’s January 3 assassination.

    Yet, in a second public announcement, the Islamic Republic said that the man, named as Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, had been arrested before Soleimani was assassinated.

    At this point, a judiciary spokesman for Tehran explained that Mousavi-Majd had been involved in spying on Soleimani prior to the actual assassination.

    It remains unclear if Mousavi-Majd was arrested last summer when Iran claimed it had captured 17 spies working for the CIA, some of whom it said were sentenced to death.

    There is also the possibility that this is an instance of Iran announcing a fake arrest of a supposed CIA or Mossad spy who is really just an Iranian in the political opposition, which the regime wants to remove from influence.

    Accusing such opposition officials of being foreign spies is always a convenient excuse.

    In its third announcement made on Saturday, a judiciary spokesman confirmed the second announcement that Mousavi-Majd was arrested before the January 3 targeted killing, but added that he had moved to Syria to help track Soleimani’s movements there.

    This new detail was interesting because according to NBC and Reuters, and confirmed by The Jerusalem Post, informants in Damascus were able to tip off the CIA about exactly which plane Soleimani would be on, which Israeli intelligence confirmed and verified.

    Reuters was told in January by Iraqi investigators that the US had inside help from two security staffers at the Baghdad airport and two Cham Wings Airlines employees – “a spy at the Damascus airport and another one working on board the airplane,” the source said.

    Iraqi national security agency’s investigators say they believe the four suspects worked as part of a wider group of people feeding information to the US military, the official said.

    ON ONE hand, it was confusing how arresting a spy in Iran would have helped with uncovering the key spies involved in assisting with the targeted killing, given that the key assets were based in Syria and Iraq.

    This latest third announcement might clarify that twist, by explaining that Mousavi-Majd was based in Syria and may have been part of the team tracking Soleimani there.

    The judiciary spokesman said that Mousavi-Majd had provided the CIA and Mossad with intelligence on Iran’s defensive and military fields, especially the defense minister, the IRGC Quds Force, the traffic of military officials and places where Soleimani stayed during the period March 21, 2017, to March 20, 2019.

    He added that while Mousavi-Majd and his family resided in Syria, he pretended to be cooperating with Iranian advisers there, while actually collecting intelligence on them.

    The last interesting point is that Iran is repeating that he spied not only for the CIA, but also for the Mossad.

    No one disputes that it was a US drone strike in Iraq which killed Soleimani.

    Further, although Israel has taken no credit on the record, Israeli intelligence was instrumental in the targeted killing, NBC News reported at the time and the Post has independently confirmed.

    But Israel often prefers to keep a low profile of any role in such operations to reduce the chance of retaliation, and that strategy seems to have worked here to date.

    Although Iran responded with missile strikes on US bases in Iraq, those strikes failed to kill any US troops, there was no official retaliation against Israel, and US President Donald Trump quickly declared the crisis over within days.

    None of this means that Iran will not retaliate against Israel later or maybe has tried and failed under the radar.

    But as soon as Tehran mentions the Mossad repeatedly, it could beg the embarrassing question internally about why they have not drawn blood from Israel publicly in response.

    Since Iran is careful about its messaging apparatus, the purpose of these announcements may have less to do with the constant spying wars between Iran and the US-Israel, and more to do with just distracting the population from the ongoing coronavirus disaster.

    Whether Iran has succeeded or not at retaliating and whether it has cracked the entire cell of assets who helped the CIA take out Soleimani, railing against “the big and little Satans” is a go-to strategy for the regime to distract the public from internal disasters.

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