Iran’s nuclear ambitions may loom large, but lurking in the shadow of President Obama’s highly anticipated visit to Israel this week is a protracted and secretive war already being waged between Jerusalem and Tehran.
Analysts and former officials say the “shadow war,” featuring suicide bombings and clandestine attacks from Eastern Europe to Asia and the Middle East, is a potential source of friction between individuals at the CIA and Israel’s lead intelligence agency, the Mossad.
The shadow war has been defined over the past five years by a tit-for-tat exchange of terrorist-style attacks. Israel’s president has blamed Iran for car and suicide bombings that targeted Israeli diplomats and killed Israeli tourists. Iran’s president has accused Israel and the U.S. of colluding to kill nuclear scientists with magnetized car bombs in Tehran.
While the U.S. vehemently denies involvement, some analysts point out that the Iranian actors in the conflict — specifically Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic’s elite Qods Force — increasingly are seeking not just Israeli but American targets.
Matthew Levitt, who heads the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has argued that Iran supports a broader conflict.
The prospect of future attacks has the U.S. intelligence community increasingly piqued, according to Mr. Levitt, who wrote in a January white paper that the “net effect of Iran’s shadow war against the West is that Hezbollah and the Qods Force have climbed back up the list of immediate threats facing the United States and its allies.”
But when it comes to alleged retaliation against Iran by those allies, namely Israel, the tactics being employed are so secretive and controversial that most Western analysts and former officials — let alone active government agents — with any reliable familiarity with the conflict will discuss it only on condition of anonymity.
Jerusalem and Washington may share a common enemy in Iran, but when it comes to the use of clandestinely planted bombs, “It is likely that the United States government as a whole doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the Israeli government,” said one analyst familiar with the Obama administration.
While Iran occupies a spot on America’s official State Sponsors of Terrorism list, Israel does not — so it’s no surprise that Israeli leaders have denied involvement in terrorist-style bombings, including those that killed Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran in November of 2010 and January of 2012.
Most Western analysts agree, however, the bombings on Iranian interests — such as those that killed the scientists in Tehran — can most likely be linked back to the Mossad.
The notion that Israel would sponsor such tactics is irksome for some members of the U.S. intelligence community. “By any objective criteria, this is terrorism,” said one former official, who also spoke with The Washington Times on condition of anonymity. “For that reason alone, I think you have people over [at CIA headquarters] who view it with repugnance.”
“But it’s not a CIA-specific thing,” the former official added. “It’s just American citizens, looking at these kinds of activities that are constituted as international terrorism.”