The Bush administration has significantly increased covert military operations inside Iran aimed at destabilising the country’s government, according to a U.S. report.
The report, in the New Yorker magazine, on Sunday quotes military, intelligence and congressional sources as saying CIA and special forces operations were ordered by U.S. President George Bush in a “presidential finding” in the past few months.
It said Bush sought, and Congressional leaders from both parties approved, $400m for the secret war, which includes abductions and assassinations.
According to the report’s author, Seymour Hersh, the operations inside Iran have been under way since last year but have recently been “significantly expanded.” However, Hersh, who broke several stories on the intelligence fiasco before the Iraq war, reported there was considerable resistance from U.S. Generals and Defence Secretary Robert Gates to White House pressure for an all-out attack.
The operations described by Hersh involve support for Baluchi and Arab separatist groups in Iran, “seizing members of Al-Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of ‘high-value targets’ in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed.”
There have been reports from Iran of assassinations of military officers, which Tehran has sometimes blamed on U.S. and British operations. Both the U.S. and Britain insist they are focused on diplomatic means to convince Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing.
Earlier this month, an international delegation to Tehran delivered a package of economic and diplomatic incentives for the government to comply with U.N. Security Council demands. On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the package was being studied “carefully and strongly.”
Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful, while western governments believe it is being used as a front for developing weapons, despite a U.S. intelligence estimate published late last year concluding Iran had closed down its weapons programme in 2003. The E.U. has intensified its travel and financial sanctions on Iran, while the Bush administration has said it will press for more punitive measures in the Security Council.
There has been persistent speculation that the White House is considering air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities before Bush leaves office next January. Over the last weekend, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, told a Tehran newspaper Iran would retaliate against any U.S. or Israeli attack on its nuclear installations by targeting the global oil supply.