One of the more interesting features of the secret and increasingly complex world of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq is the organisation’s links with a number of powerful intelligence agencies. The most interesting, sensitive and ultimately scandalous of these is the MKO’s relationship with the Israeli intelligence community—in particular the MOSSAD.
The information presented here is being disclosed for the first time. The intention is not to embarrass the Israeli intelligence community but to highlight an issue that has major implications for both Iranian and Israeli security policy.
Accusations relating to ties with the Israelis have been levelled at the Mojahedin before. A powerful argument against these charges was the Mojahedin’s strategic alliance with Iraq’s former Baathist regime. Surely the MKO could not maintain links with Saddam Hussein’s regime and the Israeli intelligence service at the same time, the cynics quipped.
The problem with this argument is that it is based on the presupposition that the Iraqis exercised full control over the MKO’s global operations. This was not the case. Although the Mojahedin’s activities in Iraq and the border areas were subject to complete Iraqi vetting and clearance, the organisations’ activities outside Iraq were largely beyond the control of the Baathist regime.
This is not to say that the Mojahedin did not actively promote or spy on behalf of the Baathist regime in European, Australasian and North American capitals. These activities did take place but the Mojahedin either undertook them on their own initiative or in cooperation with Iraqi agents. There was no compulsion or implicit coercion involved in the process.
Another problem with the argument outlined above is that it presupposes Iraq’s former regime itself did not maintain surreptitious ties with Israel. The former Iraqi regime certainly employed strong rhetoric against Israel but its active participation in anti-Israeli initiatives did not extend beyond sponsorship of largely obsolete Arab Nationalist organisations and the channelling of financial rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
Furthermore it should be noted that the MKO is notoriously unscrupulous in handling its external relations. A glaring example of this is the organisation’s approach towards the recent Iraq war. The Mojahedin had no compunction to replace the Saddam Hussein regime with the American military as its master in Iraq. Therefore the organisation’s so-called anti-imperialist world view is unlikely to serve as a barrier to intelligence cooperation with Israeli agencies.
The Israelis first became interested in the MKO in the early 1980’s. The Islamic Republic’s intervention in Lebanon which led to the rise of the Hezbollah and the wider Islamic Resistance movement in that country were correctly assessed by the Israelis as a potential security nightmare. The Israelis were keen to gain credible security leverage on the Islamic Republic. Israeli spy agencies already maintained ties with monarchist remnants and former SAVAK officers--however the utility of these elements was not judged too highly.
The first physical contact between the Mojahedin and Israeli intelligence officers occurred in December 1988. The trigger point for the meeting was a credible Israeli threat to bomb Iraqi nuclear installations. The Israelis had made similar threats before and in June 1981 had carried them out. Therefore the Iraqis were taking the latest threats seriously. The MKO was effectively being used by the Iraqi intelligence services as a point of contact with the Israelis.
The setting of the meeting was in the rural haunt of Kilvrough, situated in the Gower peninsula of south Wales. The Mojahedin were represented by a team of four men from the security branch of the organisation. They reported directly to Ibrahim Zakeri, the former head of Mojahedin intelligence. The MKO team were told by intermediaries that they were to meet mid-ranking officials of the Israeli foreign ministry but of course they presumed this was a code word for MOSSAD.
In fact the Israeli team were from SHABAK or Shin Bet, the Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security organisation. These were the only assets that Israeli intelligence could deploy for these kinds of operations in the United Kingdom at that time. It must be noted however that the operation was ultimately controlled by MOSSAD.
The logistics of the meeting had been planned under the auspices of David Kimche who was then a senior official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Kimche had been a former deputy head of MOSSAD and it is likely that his foreign ministry role in the mid to late 1980’s was cover for his real work. It is interesting to note that Kimche had played a role in the saga that later metamorphosed into Iran Gate. It was Kimche who had recruited Yaacov Nimrodi, an Iranian-Israeli Jew, for a mission to establish channels of communication with the Iranians.
The meeting in December 1988 revolved around the threat posed to Iraqi nuclear installations. There is no evidence that the MKO and the Israelis decided to forge a relationship at that meeting. Nevertheless the meeting must have been a success as the Israelis never carried through with their threats to bomb Iraqi nuclear sites.
The Mojahedin and the Israelis were not to have another meeting for more than seven years. A combination of factors dissuaded the Israelis from responding to a number of approaches from the Mojahedin. Chief amongst these was the erroneous assessment that the Persian Gulf War of 1991 had foredoomed the Iraqi regime to an early collapse. The Israelis calculated that the Mojahedin would then face extermination at the hand of vengeful Shia and Kurdish victors.
The Israeli assessment had, of course, underestimated the resilience of the Baathist regime. In 1996 the Israelis reversed their position and decided that an investment on the Mojahedin would not result in bad returns after all.
The second meeting took place in May 1996 in a discreet Mojahedin safe house on the outskirts of Manchester. The safe house was under the supervision of Akram Damghanian, who at that time, was seconded to the security branch of the organisation. The head of MKO security, Ibrahim Zakeri, was in Manchester in early May 1996 ostensibly to audit his own security team.
But the real purpose behind Zakeri’s unusual trip to that region of England was to meet an Israeli intelligence delegation. This time the Mojahedin had been told in no uncertain terms that they were going to meet MOSSAD. The Israeli team again comprised four men. The planner this time around was Shabtai Shavit a former director of Shin Bet who was later co-opted by MOSSAD. Interestingly the ailing Shavit is still being used by Israeli intelligence in its disinformation campaigns against Iran. A website linked to Israeli intelligence recently lauded his denunciation of the prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hezbollah in a TV show.
The foundations of the intelligence nexus between MOSSAD and the Mojahedin were thrashed out at that fateful meeting. The relationship continues to this day and largely revolves around the Israelis using the MKO as a disinformation outlet. An interesting feature of Israeli intelligence is that although it is one of the best in the business in conventional intelligence tradecraft, it is remarkably sloppy in disinformation and psychological warfare.
The Israeli inclination to exaggerate and concoct quasi-intelligence has discredited its traditional disinformation outlets. Hence the reliance on the MKO as a platform to disseminate disinformation on Iran relieves the Israelis from having to rely on these outlets.
The biggest MOSSAD-MKO disinformation coup was the so-called exposure of the Arak and Natanz reactors in the summer of 2002. The disinformation was channelled to an MKO security team in Europe by the MOSSAD psychological warfare unit.
One of the means the Israelis use to transfer this kind of information to the right people in the Mojahedin is through discreet insertions of encrypted data into laptops and other computers. The practicalities of these ultra-modern versions of the celebrated dead letter box are highly intricate. The Mojahedin use their trips across Europe and America to carry computers. The information is inserted into the computers at opportune moments. The couriers are not usually aware of the significance of the insertions—unless they are from the security branch of the organisation and have been “briefed” on their task.
The Israelis do not rely on the Mojahedin for classified information on Iran. The reason for this is simple: the Mojahedin can not deliver this kind of information. There is also no evidence that the Israelis have channelled money to the Mojahedin.
From the Mojahedin perspective this relationship is important as it serves to enhance their stature amongst Western intelligence agencies. The MOSSAD have lobbied strongly on behalf of the MKO. The most important example of this is the current pressure being applied on the Pentagon to keep the Mojahedin on “life-support” in the Diyala wastelands of Iraq.
The most important point to be made about the MOSSAD-MKO intelligence nexus is that it is, at best, a tactical cooperation. There can be no ideological affinity or common long-term objectives between Israel and an eccentric cult whose ideology is an amalgam of Pseudo-Marxism and Shia theosophy.
There is ample evidence in intelligence history that security links forged on the basis of tactical considerations are not only ephemeral but unlikely to prove particularly productive either.
Another interesting feature of this intelligence nexus is that it ultimately ties in with the complex intelligence great game between Iran and Israel. Israel needs some kind of leverage over Iran. After all the Islamic Republic is the main sponsor of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, which arguably constitutes Israel’s primary security threat.
Given the complex strategic variables at play it is difficult to envisage that the tactical relationship between the MOSSAD and the MKO will not end in severe embarrassment for the former and disaster for the latter.
 The Iraqis, for example, sponsored Abu Nidal, an organisation that became largely irrelevant from the late 1980’s onwards.
 The SHABAK agents were apparently in Britain at that time to investigate a security breach at the Israeli embassy in London.
 R Payne, MOSSAD: Israel’s Most Secret Service, London 1993, p. 151.
 DEBKAfile, 27 January 2004.
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