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Iran Claims Covert Operation Penetrated Israeli Spy Agency

NASSER KARIMI   01/11/11 09:45 AM ET   AP

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's intelligence chief said Tuesday that more than 10 people arrested in connection with last year's killing of a nuclear physicist were linked to the Mossad and he warned that Israel's spy agency was out to roll back scientific progress in Muslim nations.

Heidar Moslehi revealed few new details to bolster the claim a day earlier that Iran's probe into the killing had led its agents to infiltrate the Mossad. He did not say exactly how many people were arrested but accused "more than 10" of them of belonging to networks linked to the Israeli agency. Officials also displayed for reporters several handguns – one fitted with a silencer – that they said were seized from the suspects.

Israel's Foreign Ministry and the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to comment on the allegations.

Tehran University physics professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi was killed by a bomb-rigged motorcycle that exploded outside his house as he was leaving for work in January 2010. Possible explanations for why he was targeted have never been clear, particularly as he had no known link to Iran's nuclear program.

In November, a pair of mysterious bomb attacks in Tehran killed one nuclear scientist and wounded another – both of whom appeared deeply involved in the country's atomic work.

Speaking to reporters, Moslehi said Israel was out to stop nations in the region from making scientific advancements.

He said Israel-linked networks had set up bases in countries neighboring Iran.

"We ... created intelligence bases next to them through which we could strike heavy blows against the group," he said, without naming the countries.

He warned Iran's neighbors that Tehran would regard any cooperation with Israel on their part as terrorism and a threat to the entire Middle East.

Israel has ties with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Qatar, all neighbors of Iran.

"The regional and neighboring countries that have interactions with Israel should pay attention that any facility they provide to the Zionist regime is considered against the region and the Islamic Republic," Moslehi said.

He said Iran had uncovered information about Israeli plots against other nations in the region and would share the intelligence with them.

Among the handguns and other equipment displayed by the Intelligence Ministry Tuesday were communications and filming devices and a bomb. Authorities said the materials were confiscated from those arrested.

On Monday, Iran's state TV broadcast a purported confession by one of those arrested in which the unidentified young man said he underwent training in Israel on how to place bombs on cars.

The man said he received training at a military camp between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

"Two new Iranian-made motorbikes were there. ... They told me where to go, where to stop, who to call and how to do things back in Iran," he said.

Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman, an expert on intelligence issues, said he has no way of assessing whether the Iranian spy claims are legitimate. In a newspaper column Tuesday, he said the account sounded fictional, but that doesn't mean it's false.

"The people in Tehran are known as liars ... but sometimes what sounds like Middle Eastern imagination eventually turns out to be a true story," Bergman wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst who lives in Israel, said it was impossible to know whether the spy confession was true, but he said he viewed the claim with a "lot of suspicion."

He said the televised confession appeared to be aimed at the domestic audience by stressing how important the nation's nuclear program is and that the government is doing its utmost to protect them. He said the claim also might be meant to confuse Israel, after reports that its newly retired intelligence chief said Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear weapon have been pushed back.

"The Iranian government uses such confessions on TV, especially since the election, as a tool to boost its own position," Javedanfar said.

What exactly made the slain physics professor a target remains a mystery. He had no prominent political role, no published work with military relevance and no declared links to the country's nuclear program, though his work included some aspects of nuclear theory.

Still, Iran sought to portray his killing as part of an attack on the country's scientific and nuclear advances.

Israel, the United States and other nations suspect Iran is intent on using its civil nuclear energy program as cover for developing atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear work is entirely peaceful.

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Associated Press Writer Ian Deitch contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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