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Stuxnet and Iran’s Shadow War

8:08 AM, Jun 8, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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…attended special military trainings in the military camps near Tehran and Karaj, mastered skills to fire from firearms, including automatic guns, pistols, to use explosive agents and devices, topographic maps, to make confidential observations, avoid confidential observations and to enter secretly the close secured buildings. After the trainings ended, the Azerbaijani citizens undertook commitment about confidential cooperation and were nicknamed by the employees of SEPAH. They were ordered to gather materials damaging the state security of the Azerbaijan Republic, find other persons, including the citizens of Georgia, who can help, and put in touch with them.

All of these activities were “financed by [the] intelligence agencies of Iran, under the special plans of the SEPAH employees.” And two of the IRGC’s men were responsible for acquiring the weapons to be used in the “terror acts against the employees of the embassies.”

As a result of its criminal investigation, therefore, Azerbaijani authorities concluded that the IRGC and Iran’s intelligence apparatus were involved at every level of the plot against the American embassy in Baku and other targets.

The Post reports that the terrorist plotting “came to light after a foreign spy agency intercepted electronic messages that appeared to describe plans to move weapons and explosives from Iran into Azerbaijan.” The Post continues (emphasis added):

Some of the messages were traced to an Azerbaijani national named Balagardash Dashdev, a man with an extensive criminal background and, according to a Middle East investigator involved in the case, deep ties to a network of intelligence operatives and militant groups based inside Iran.

It appears that Balagardash Dashdev, who was identified as the plot’s ringleader, is the same man who was mentioned in an earlier press release by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of National Security on January 19. Assuming it is the same man, Azerbaijani officials gave his name as Balagardash Dadashov and said that he lived in Iran and “had contacts with Iranian special services.” In other words, he was working with Iranian intelligence and/or the IRGC.

According to the Post, Balagardash told “investigators that the planned attacks were intended as revenge for the deaths of the Iranian nuclear scientists, attacks that Iran has publicly linked to Israel and the United States.” This begs the question: Why would some random group of terrorists seek revenge for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists – that is, a clandestine attack on the Iranian regime’s nuclear program?

A number of plots targeting American, Israeli, and other Western interests in Azerbaijan have been broken up in recent months. The Post’s sources claim that these “attempts halted abruptly in early spring, at a time when Iran began to shift its tone after weeks of bellicose anti-Western rhetoric and threats to shut down vital shipping lanes.” But, again, that would mean the Iranians were behind the attempts in the first place, something the Post’s sources and the Obama administration are eager to avoid saying.

It is not even clear that Iran has stopped sending terrorists into Azerbaijan. To date, the Iranian-backed terrorists may have been simply stopped by diligent counterterrorism and intelligence officials. In addition, in April, after the Iranians agreed to sit down for talks, an al Qaeda-linked cell made its way from Iran into Azerbaijan. Some members of this cell spent two months training in Iran. We do not know if the Iranians were directly involved in this cell’s operations, but it would not be wise to simply assume away the possibility.

Azerbaijan has been on the front lines in the shadow war between Iran and its proxies, on the one hand, and Israel, the U.S., and the West on the other. We should not be surprised if additional terrorists make their way from Iran into Azerbaijan in the future. Nor should we be surprised if some American officials, eager to explain away Iran’s nefarious behavior in the hope that a diplomatic solution to the mullahs’ nuclear program can be reached, disconnect the dots pointing to the Iranian regime either.

Meanwhile, the details of the American-led effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program – an effort that is intended to avoid military confrontation – spill out onto the pages of newspapers.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.     

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