In early July police in Azerbaijan foiled a plot to attack the Israeli embassy, and arrested two Afghan men involved in the plot. Ten days later Mossad (Israeli foreign intelligence) uncovered an Iranian plot to murder Israelis working in Cyprus. This was accomplished by identifying and capturing the Iranian assassin. When interrogated by Mossad, the Iranian man revealed that he was part of a network the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) Quds Force was seeking to form in Cyprus. Quds is the section of the IRGC that specializes in foreign operations involving espionage and assassinations. Mossad and Quds have confronted each other in several foreign nations over the last few decades. Quds is usually the loser because Quds is usually engaged in schemes to kill Israelis and the local police will act if the foreign killers are pointed out. When Mossad discovered this plot, they sent agents into Iran to capture and extract the Iranian who organized this Quds effort. Israeli interrogators discovered that the Iranian effort in Cyprus was extensive, but now they had names of the people involved and had them arrested by Cypriot authorities.
The Quds operation in neighboring Azerbaijan was about Israel and Azerbaijan establishing formal diplomatic relations and opening embassies in both nations. Azerbaijan has other reasons to prefer dealing with Israel rather than Iran. About a quarter of Iran's population is Azeri (a Turkic people). Persia and its successor Iran controlled almost all Azeri-populated territory until Russia seized part of it in the 19th century. For a while after World War I, and since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Azeris were independent. While the Iranian Azeris are generally loyal to Iran, they are still Turks and speak a different language than the ethnic Iranians. Seeing Azerbaijan allying itself with Israel, for whatever reason, does not sit well with Iran, but there's not a lot it can do about this. Iran was not able to provide the weapons or other military assistance the Azeris needed to overcome the Armenian threat, so the Israelis were called in, and later Turkey as well. The Azeris have proved to be good allies. They have detected and destroyed Iran sponsored terrorism efforts, like one that was planning to attack Israelis in Azerbaijan. Iran was believed behind this plot, and Azerbaijan did not appreciate it. Azerbaijan has bought several billion dollars’ worth of Israeli weapons over the last fifteen years.
Iran might try again in Cyprus, because that’s what Quds Force does. Quds is often successful if their local efforts do not involve killing Israelis. Even in those cases the Quds operation may be compromised by Mossad, which will tell local police about what Quds is up to. The IRGC is not pleased with all this Mossad interference, especially when it involves Mossad agents operating inside Iran. Quds is also dismayed at their inability to operate inside Israel. The best Quds can do is get some operatives into nations bordering Israel, including the Palestinian West Bank. Quds supporters in the West Bank don’t last long because Israeli police and soldiers often stage raids in the West Bank to capture Palestinians planning attacks against Israel. Quds is safer in Lebanon or Syria, but not in Jordan or Egypt. Iran is not on good terms with Egypt or Jordan. Mossad will often warn Jordan or Egypt if there is new Iranian activity in their countries.
Despite all these setbacks, Iran has increased its efforts to carry out attacks inside Israel. The IRGC is taking the lead with its Quds Force, which specializes in attacks against foreign enemies. Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence service, recently arrested two West Bank Palestinians who had been recruited, via the Internet, by Quds Force as part of an effort to establish a network of Palestinians in the West Bank who had been trained and organized by Quds to carry out attacks against Israelis using rockets launched from the West Bank. This Quds network would also provide Iran with information on the West Bank. Such a network has not yet been established, in large part because Shin Bet detects Quds activities and often monitors them rather than immediately shutting them down. That was the case with the two recently arrested Palestinians, who had been sent to Turkey where Quds could provide training. Shin Bet waited until it had identified other Palestinians working for Quds.
Iran spends about $100 million a year to support its operations among Palestinians. Over the last few years, some of that activity moved from Gaza to the West Bank. The West Bank is run by Fatah, a more corrupt, and less comfortable with Quds, Palestinian government. Fatah is very hostile towards rival Hamas members from Gaza operating in the West Bank. The growing presence of Hamas and Quds in the West Bank caused Fatah to become more cooperative with Israel and its many intelligence and counterintelligence organizations. Quds is spending a lot of money in the West Bank and Fatah insists on getting a share of anyone’s new spending in their domain. Shin Bet has a network of local informants in the West Bank, as well as in Gaza and Turkey. Israel also has an extensive Internet monitoring operation that searches for, and often detects, new efforts to use the Internet in support of attacks on Israel.
Iran knows that Israel is a formidable opponent, especially in the West Bank and Gaza. Just having a recruiting network in the West Bank is seen as an achievement, even though it has been expensive. For example, a year ago Shin Bet arrested four members of a Hamas terrorist cell (group) that had received training in Syria and Turkey before returning to the West Bank, where they were arrested. Quds was involved with this.
At the same time Israeli media and an Iranian opposition group revealed that Israeli Mossad and Shin Bet personnel had gone to Iran in 2021. There they seized and interrogated Mansour Rasouli, a member of Quds Force Unit 840, which carries out assassinations overseas. Rasouli admitted that he had been assigned to arrange the assassination of an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, an American general officer stationed in Germany and a journalist in France. The IRGC was providing him with $150,000 to plan the killings and another million dollars if all three subjects were killed. Rasouli planned to hire contract killers via his contacts in drug smuggling gangs.
Audio, and later video, of key portions of the interrogation were leaked. Rasouli confessed because his interrogators already knew a lot about the plot. He was released and the Israeli interrogators left Iran. Rasouli and his IRGC superiors called off the assassinations because they knew the interrogation had been recorded, the targets had been alerted, and had received additional security. There was an understanding that, if Iran backed off on these killings, the Israelis would remain silent about the interrogation. Why this evidence was leaked in 2022 may have something to do with the Israeli opposition to the 2022 Biden administration’s willingness to not merely revive the 2015 treaty reducing American sanctions on Iran, but also to modify its terms to make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for use on Israel. Billions of dollars in frozen accounts would be returned to Iran and, if the Americans went ahead with taking the Iranian IRGC and its Quds Force off the list of known terrorists, there would be a lot more violence in the Middle East. Iran saw the 2015 treaty suspended by a new American government in 2018 because of Iranian cheating.
Audio, and later video, of key portions of the interrogation were leaked. Rasouli confessed because his interrogators already knew a lot about the plot. He was released and the Israeli interrogators left Iran. Rasouli and his IRGC superiors called off the assassinations because they knew the interrogation had been recorded, the targets had been alerted, and had received additional security. There was an understanding that, if Iran backed off on these killings, the Israelis would remain silent about the interrogation. Why this evidence was leaked in 2022 may have something to do with the Israeli opposition to the 2018 American willingness to not merely revive the 2015 treaty reducing American sanctions on Iran, but also to modify its terms to make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for use on Israel. Billions of dollars in frozen accounts would be returned to Iran and, if the Americans went ahead with taking the Iranian IRGC and its Quds Force off the list of known terrorists, there would be a lot more violence in the Middle East. Iran saw the 2015 treaty suspended by a new American government in 2018 because of Iranian cheating.
Then came the 2020 American presidential elections, which put into power another new president seemingly determined to change American policies towards Iran and ignore Arab oil states’ complaints about Iranian threats and attacks on them. This has driven many Gulf oil states into an economic alliance with Russia to drive up the price of oil. This policy makes it easier for Iran to smuggle more of its heavily discounted oil. That plan survived the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and even more economic sanctions. Opposition from the Arabs and American voters is having an impact and revival of the 2015 treaty may not happen. Otherwise, Israel has made it clear it will carry out attacks on Iranian targets key to nuclear and ballistic missile development and production. The Arab oil states will cooperate, and continue refusing to increase production to lower world oil prices.
Meanwhile Hamas complained that Turkey expelled dozens of Hamas members. These expulsions are part of the Turkish effort to repair their relations with Israel.