BEIRUT — Piece by piece, the tools for an alleged Iranian-directed murder team were smuggled into Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea. A sniper rifle with silencer. Pistols. Sixteen pieces of plastic explosives and detonators.
Finally came a dossier with photos, names and exacting details — down to workplace drawings — for Israeli targets in the capital of Azerbaijan.
Each step, according to authorities in Baku, was overseen by Iran’s intelligence services for what could have been a stunning attack weeks before the suspected shadow war between Jerusalem and Tehran flared in Azerbaijan’s neighbor Georgia and the megacities New Delhi and Bangkok.
The shadow war is picking up as concerns are growing over Iran’s alleged weapons experiments. Iran denies charges by the West that it seeks atomic weapons, insisting its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation.
The allegedly unraveled Baku plot in January, recounted through interviews and police records, has been largely overshadowed by this month’s arrests and attacks that suggest Iranian payback after the slayings of at least five Iranian scientists in the past two years — all with some links to Tehran’s nuclear program.
But the Baku claims offer a wider portrait of Iran’s alleged clandestine operations, and how they appear tailored to different locales.
“The moves against Israel taken in other countries and thwarted in Baku are undoubtedly interconnected,” said Arastun Orujlu, the head of East-West, an independent Baku-based think tank. “Iran tries to provoke Israel. Iran needs an external factor to mobilize and unite the society, but it realizes that it will lose a big war. That is why Iran is trying to provoke Israel to engage in smaller-scale confrontation.”
Iran denies any links to the attacks outside its borders, but accuses Israel of directing the slayings of the Iranian scientists as well as other clandestine acts such as a computer virus that targeted uranium enrichment equipment.