|Brigadier General Ali-Reza Asgari
علی رضا عسگری
|Deputy Minister of Defense|
August 30, 1997 – August 24, 2005
|Preceded by||Ataollah Salehi|
|Succeeded by||Ahmad Vahidi|
|Born||November 1, 1952
Ardestan, Esfahan, Iran
|Spouse(s)||Ziba Ahmadi (1977–1993)
Zahra Abdollahpour (1996–2010)
|Religion||Twelver Shi'a Islam|
|Service/branch||Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution|
|Years of service||1980–2007|
Brigadier General Ali-Reza Asgari (1 November 1952) was an Iranian general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, deputy defense minister, and cabinet member of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
Asgari had been "pushed aside" from his ministerial role after President Ahmadinejad, a former rival, came into power in 2005. Asgari disappeared in Turkey in early 2007, and news reports indicate that he either defected or was kidnapped by Western intelligence agencies. His disappearance has also led to reports that Iran would retaliate by kidnapping American or Israeli officials in Europe. According to The Sunday Times, Asgari was described as a "gold mine for western intelligence" by an Israeli defence source who claimed that they had been following him since the 1980s.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Military and intelligence career
- 3 Disappearance
- 4 Death reported
- 5 References
- 6 See also
Military and intelligence career
In the 1980s Asgari was commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon and during the 1990s he was the top Iranian intelligence official in Lebanon, where he worked with the Shia militant group Hezbollah. One report said that during this time Asgari was involved in the alleged transfer of captured Israeli pilot Ron Arad to Iran. The Israeli website Debkafile claims that Asgari ran Iranian operations in Iraq, and is linked to the January 20, 2007 Karbala provincial headquarters raid.
According to The Sunday Times, Asgari was recruited as a spy in 2003 during a business trip; however, it is not known what Western intelligence agency recruited him. He decided to defect once it was suspected by the Iranian VEVAK that he was a mole.
Asgari disappeared on February 7, 2007 in Istanbul, Turkey after flying in from Damascus, Syria. One report said that he had been in Syria to discuss production of military equipment, and his trip to Turkey was to meet with a European arms dealer. This was challenged by a woman in Tehran who claimed she was Asgari's wife, and who said that Asgari flew to Istanbul on December 7 and disappeared on December 9. She also said that "He [Asgari] was doing business in olive oil in Syria."
Reports say that two other people had reserved a room for Asgari at the Ceylan Hotel in Istanbul for three nights, but that after arriving Asgari reserved a room at the cheaper Hotel Ghilan. It is not clear if he ever checked into the hotel, and a later report suggested that no such hotel exists.
Reports say that Iran sent several defense officials to Turkey to discuss the matter during the last week of February, and also asked Interpol to investigate the case. Because of claims that Israel was behind the disappearance, security was boosted for Israeli embassies and senior officials abroad. On March 6 the Turkish Foreign Minister said that Turkey was conducting "an extremely broad investigation."
According to the Islamic republic state-run newspaper Iran, Asgari was captured by a joint team of Mossad and CIA and then tortured by them. This claim of torture was denied by a source in the Iranian military, who said that the Iranians have no information on his current situation. In an interview with Fars News, Asgari's daughter said that "I'm sure that United States and Israel have kidnapped him".
Defection versus kidnapping
There has been vivid debate in the media about the question of whether Asgari defected to the west or was kidnapped. The Israeli paper Haaretz first reported that Asgari may have defected. This was echoed by a report in Asharq Alawsat, which stated that Asgari defected to the United States. That same paper reported on March 7 that Asgari was being questioned in northern Europe (later reported as a NATO base in Germany and specifically Rhein-Main Air Base) before eventually being moved to the US. However, a US intelligence official told The New York Post "We don't have him."
Asgari may have been able to leave Turkey under a different passport.
On March 8 The Washington Post said that Asgari was willingly cooperating with Western intelligence officials, and was providing information on Hezbollah and its Iranian connections. Among other things, this included information regarding the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. Asgari also smuggled out intelligence documents and maps that detail Iranian involvement with Muslim militia groups, including Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and the Iraqi Mahdi army and Badr Organization. A US intelligence official said that his defection was "orchestrated by the Israelis", although Israeli spokesman Mark Regev denied this. The New York Post reported that an Iranian dissident group helped plan the defection and is negotiating with Western intelligence agencies for a "permanent place of exile".
Iranian sources and Associated Press reports say that Asgari was kidnapped by the Mossad with the help of other western intelligence agencies. An Israeli source quoted in Tikun Olam (blog), claims Asgari is Prisoner X held incommunicado in Israel's Ayalon Prison.
Asgari was married to Ziba Ahmadi and Zahra Abdollahpour and had five children. Several sources say that some of Asgari's family left Iran before he defected, possibly under the guise of a vacation. One article said that 10 close family members left, including two sons and a daughter. This has been contradicted by Farda News, which said his wife and children were still in Tehran. On March 12, Asgari's wife Ziba Ahmadi and daughter Elham lodged a complaint at the Turkish embassy in Tehran, saying that "He has not asked for political asylum and will never do." On March 19, ten relatives including another wife Zahra Abdollahpour again gathered at the Turkish embassy, and said that "It was America and Israel who did it but... [the] Turkish government is responsible and they should inform us about his situation as soon as possible."
In an interview on July 10 with the news agency Mehr, Ziba Ahmadi said that 90% of the evidence points towards Israel being responsible for her husband's disappearance, although she has not received any information on him.
2007 Iranian seizure
After 15 British navy personnel were seized by Iranian forces on March 23, 2007, some media reports suggested that the Iranian government wanted to trade them for Iranian personnel allegedly abducted, including Asgari.
In April 2007, journalist Richard Miniter published an article detailing his own investigation in Turkey as to Asgari's disappearance. Miniter found that it is impossible to reserve a room at the Ceylan Hotel in cash (as was previously reported) and that no such "Hotel Ghilan" exists, although it may have been a mispronunciation of "Hotel Divan", just across the street from the Ceylan. Miniter spoke with Professor Hasan Koni of the American Studies program at Bahcesehir University, who said that senior Turkish generals were angry at not being told which ally had taken Asgari, and that the identity of this country was a hot debate among "military, intelligence, and police circles."
In early July 2007 the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that Asgari told US interrogators that Iran is secretly attempting to enrich uranium with a combination of lasers and chemicals at a weapons facility in Natanz; this would act as a backup if the publicly known facilities and activities were stopped by sanctions or military strikes. Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman expanded upon this reporting in his book The Secret War with Iran, in which he stated that Asgari had not only supplied the information regarding lasers, but had also revealed that a second site for centrifuges had been built near the principal Natanz site, and that a Syrian nuclear program, developed with North Korean help, was being paid for by Iran.
In December 2007 when the US intelligence community released the findings of an NIE stating that Iran had stopped its secret nuclear weapons program in 2003 (as opposed to the 2005 NIE which said they were continuing), some observers suspected that Asgari played some role in providing intelligence or prompting the reassessment; however, current officials have said that there was no single thing which prompted the reversal, though another source cited current diplomatic and security officials as saying that a defector was likely to be the cause of the new information.
On September 28 the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jareeda reported that Asgari provided information for the Israeli airstrike on September 6 in Syria, code-named Operation Orchard; this was echoed by the intelligence group Stratfor, which reported that Asgari "gave Israel the intelligence on Syria's missile program needed for the Syrian airstrike." In March 2009, Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported that after defecting, Asgari told the U.S. about the secret Syrian nuclear reactor, built in partnership with North Korea and with Iranian financing. This was reportedly the first time the U.S. and Israel were alerted of the project.
In late March 2008, Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, an Iranian human rights activist who lives in Germany, was detained at Ataturk International Airport after an Iranian official requested that he be deported to Iran. According to the Iranians, he had played a role in Asgari's defection.
In an interview with Newsmax, Ebrahimi explained that he and Asgari had met in the mid-1990s when they worked at Iran's embassy in Beirut. When Asgari was on his trip in Syria in 2007, he called Ebrahimi in Germany to say that his special passport only had two days remaining and that he did not wish to go back to Iran; following Ebrahimi's advice, he rented a car, left his wife in Damascus to drive to Turkey, and paid US$1500 to a Turkish border guard to enter without a visa. Contacts of Ebrahimi's were said to meet him in rooms reserved at the Gilan hotel, but the meeting did not take place because of a police presence outside the hotel.
2009 Iranian reports
On November 15, 2009, several Iranian websites reported details of a two-year Iranian investigation into the matter, which concluded that Asgari was kidnapped by the Israeli, British, and German intelligence agencies, and was currently being held in an Israeli jail. Earlier in October, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had said that "The United States should be accountable as it is directly or indirectly responsible for causing problems for Shahram Amiri, AliReza Asgari and Ardebili".
- "Iran pursuing fate of former defense ministry official missing in Turkey", Islamic Republic News Agency, March 6, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2007.
- "Iranian general's disappearance a mystery", UPI, March 5, 2007. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Mahnaimi, Uzi. "Defector spied on Iran for years", The Sunday Times, March 11, 2007. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
- Fars News Agency :: Iran: West May Have Kidnapped Missing Official
- Mahnaimi, Uzi. "Iran to hit back at US ‘kidnaps’", The Sunday Times, March 18, 2007. Retrieved March 18, 2007.
- Dan, Oron. "'Moderate' on Hating US..", New York Post, 11 March 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
- "Wife of missing former Iranian official urges authorities to investigate", International Herald Tribune, March 12, 2007. Retrieved March 12, 2007.
- "Report: Iranian general has info on Arad", The Jerusalem Post, March 5, 2007. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- "The Vanishing Iranian General: Did He Leave or Was He Taken?", Debkafile, March 2, 2007. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Zadeh, Ali Nouri. "Missing Iranian Minster Reportedly Cooperating with Western Intelligence", Asharq Alawsat, March 8, 2007. Retrieved March 8, 2007.
- "Missing Iranian official was kidnapped – relatives", SignOnSanDiego, March 12, 2007. Retrieved March 12, 2007.
- Dan, Oron. "TERROR-LINKED IRANIAN IN 'KIDNAP' PUZZLE", The New York Post, March 5, 2007. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- "General vanishes; Mossad/CIA blamed", The Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2007. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Butcher, Tim. "Spy's disappearance sparks kidnap fears", The Telegraph, March 5, 2007. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Miniter, Richard. "The General Vanishes", Pajamas Media, April 9, 2007. Retrieved July 1, 2007.
- "Iran accuses West of kidnapping former senior official", People's Daily Online, March 6, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2007.
- Stern, Yoav. "Iran intelligence official said missing, may have defected", Haaretz, March 5, 2007. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Yehoshua, Yossi. "Israel boosts security around embassies abroad", Ynetnews, March 6, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2007.
- "Ankara ‘delicately investigating’ Asghari’s disappearance", Today's Zaman, March 9, 2007. Retrieved March 9, 2007.
- Iran Newspaper – سياسى – 1385/12/22
- Zadeh, Ali Nouri. "Top al Quds Brigade Official Disappears in Iraq", Asharq Alawsat, March 14, 2007. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
- Fars News Agency : اسرائيل يا آمريكا عسگري را دزديدهاند، تركيه مسئول است
- "Report: Missing Iranian defected to U.S.". UPI. 2007-03-06. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
- Follath, Erich; Stark, Holger (2009-11-02). "The Story of 'Operation Orchard': How Israel Destroyed Syria's Al Kibar Nuclear Reactor". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- "Report: Missing Iran general in Europe", The Jerusalem Post, March 7, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
- Lathem, Niles and Dan, Oron. "Iran 'Defector' Top Nuke Gen. Flees to U.S.: Report", The New York Post, March 7, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
- Zadeh, Ali Nouri. "Missing Iranian Minister is Cooperating with Western Intelligence – Source", Asharq Alawsat, March 9, 2007. Retrieved March 10, 2007.
- Linzer, Dafna. "Former Iranian Defense Official Talks to Western Intelligence", The Washington Post, March 8, 2007. Retrieved March 8, 2007.
- Lathem, Niles and Dan, Oron. "SPILLING HIS GUTS", The New York Post, March 8, 2007. Retrieved March 8, 2007.
- Lathem, Niles. "Secret Network Helped Defector", The New York Post, March 9, 2007. Retrieved March 9, 2007.
- Arsu, Sebnem. "German aide adds intrigue in case of missing Iranian", International Herald Tribune, March 13, 2007. Retrieved March 13, 2007.
- Sherwell, Philip (2009-12-12). "Iranian scientist who vanished 'gave nuclear secrets' to UN inspectors sent to Qom site". London: The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
- "Reports: Iran Ex-Deputy Minister Jailed in Israel". Associated Press. 2009-11-15.
- Muhammad Sahimi, Report: Iranian Ex-Deputy Defense Minister, Missing 4 Years, in Israeli Jail, PBS, December 12, 2010
- "Wives blame Turkey for Iranian official's 'kidnap", SignOnSanDiego, March 19, 2007. Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- Smyth, Gareth. "Mystery of former Iranian minister deepens", The Financial Times, March 11, 2007. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
- Cohen, Dudi. "Iranian general's wife says Israel kidnapped him", Ynetnews, July 10, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- Panja, Tariq and Quinn, Jennifer. "Blair Warns Iran on 15 Seized Sailors". Forbes, March 25, 2007. Retrieved March 25, 2007.
- Bergman, Ronen. "US closer to cracking Iran's nuclear secrets", Ynetnews, July 8, 2007. Retrieved July 9, 2007.
- Bergman, Ronen (2008). The Secret War with Iran. New York: Free Press. pp. 350–351. ISBN 978-1-4165-5839-2.
- Donbey, Daniel (2007-12-06). "Lessons from past shift debate on Iran". The Financial Times. Archived from the original on December 7, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
- MacAskill, Ewen (2007-12-04). "New intelligence points to Iranian defector". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
- "Report: Defecting Iranian official gave info before alleged Syrian foray". The Jerusalem Post. 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-28.
- "Israel: Asghari Gave Syrian Intelligence". Stratfor. 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-28.
- "'Iran defector tipped off U.S. on Syrian nuclear ambitions". Haaretz. Associated Press. 2009-03-19. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- Daragahi, Borzou (2008-03-29). "Iranian dissident's case throws light on a key defection". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
- Timmerman, Kenneth R. (2008-04-01). "Iranian Defectors Provide Crucial Intel". Newsmax. Archived from the original on April 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
- "Reports: Iran Ex-Deputy Minister Jailed in Israel". MSNBC. Associated Press. 2009-11-15. Retrieved 2010-12-09.
- "U.S. behind abduction of Iranian nationals: FM". Xinhua. 2009-10-21. Retrieved 2009-11-15.
- "Iran's former deputy defense minister martyred in Israeli prison". 29 December 2010.
- "عسگری در زندان موساد به شهادت رسید". Aftab. 28 December 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2013.