For greater than a decade, he was a feared presence in Iran, presiding over an enormous intelligence equipment. He crushed home dissent and political rivals, and expanded covert operations past Iran’s borders to focus on dissidents and enemies overseas.
Hossein Taeb, a 59-year-old cleric and chief of intelligence for the highly effective Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, appeared untouchable.
That was till he was abruptly faraway from his place final week, a casualty of a relentless marketing campaign by Israel to undermine Iran’s safety by concentrating on its officers and navy websites, in line with officers and analysts in each nations.
A botched Iranian effort to focus on Israeli residents in Turkey, which brought about an embarrassing diplomatic disaster with Ankara, a regional ally of Tehran, ultimately tipped the stability, in line with Israeli intelligence officers briefed on the Iranian plot who requested anonymity to debate delicate operations and intelligence matters.
The removing of Mr. Taeb was an acknowledgment by Tehran that confronting the menace from Israel required new management and a reset of methods and protocols, in line with Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist former vice chairman of Iran and cleric who was ousted by conservatives in 2009 however has maintained shut ties to prime officers.
“The safety breaches inside Iran and the huge scope of operations by Israel have actually undermined our strongest intelligence group,” Mr. Abtahi stated by phone from Tehran. “The power of our safety has at all times been the bedrock of the Islamic Republic and it has been broken previously yr.”
Calls to purge Mr. Taeb appeared amid a rising local weather of distrust throughout the Iranian management after a senior commander within the Revolutionary Guards, Brig. Gen. Ali Nasiri, was secretly arrested on allegations of spying for Israel, in line with an individual with shut ties to prime officers within the Revolutionary Guards and one other with information of the arrest. They and different Iranian officers quoted on this article requested anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to talk on the report about inner discussions.
Officers with Iran’s mission to the United Nations stated they’d no speedy remark concerning the claims.
Basic Nasiri’s detention got here two months after a number of dozen workers of the Ministry of Protection’s missile improvement program have been arrested on suspicion of leaking categorized navy info, together with design blueprints of missiles, to Israel, in line with an Iranian official aware of the raid.
Through the previous yr, Israel has intensified the scope and frequency of its assaults inside Iran, together with on the nuclear and navy websites that Mr. Taeb’s group was chargeable for defending.
One of many Israeli officers stated that a part of the technique entailed exposing failures by the Revolutionary Guards of their covert struggle with Israel within the hope that it might create battle between political leaders and the protection and intelligence institution.
On Monday, three Iranian metal factories, considered one of them the state-owned Khuzestan Metal, was hit in a cyber assault forcing one to halt its manufacturing line. The three factories hit Monday are main suppliers of metal to the Revolutionary Guards, in line with a Western intelligence official.
A gaggle of hackers often known as Gonjeshke Darande claimed duty. The identical group claimed duty for an additional cyber assault in November that disabled fuel stations throughout Iran and that U.S. officers stated was linked to Israel. Officers in Israel declined to substantiate the supply of the assaults.
Israel’s spy community has infiltrated deep into the rank and file of Iran’s safety circles, Iranian officers have acknowledged, with Iran’s former minister of intelligence warning final yr that officers ought to concern for his or her lives, in line with Iranian media studies.
Keren Hajioff, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel, stated in an interview that the technique concentrating on Iran was a part of Mr. Bennett’s “octopus” doctrine.
“This doctrine is a strategic shift from the previous, when Israel centered on Iran’s proxy ‘tentacles’ throughout the area, in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza,” she stated. The brand new tactic, she added, was “a paradigm shift: Now we go straight for the pinnacle.”
Israeli brokers have carried out assassinations with remote-controlled robots and in drive-by shootings, flown drones into delicate missile and nuclear services, and kidnapped and interrogated an agent of the Revolutionary Guards inside Iran. Tehran additionally suspects that Israel killed two of its scientists in Might.
Mr. Taeb was appointed the pinnacle of the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence group in 2009 after nationwide unrest over disputed presidential elections. He had beforehand served because the chief of the Basij, a plainclothes militia infamous for attacking and typically killing protesters.
Mr. Taeb enforced systematic crackdowns with a brutality that elevated the intelligence group from an obscure safety unit to essentially the most feared spying operation within the nation.
Extra not too long ago, Mr. Taeb had been underneath stress to root out Israel’s community of spies in Iran and to strike again, in line with an adviser to the federal government and one other individual affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.
Basic Nasiri, who was arrested in June, served as a senior commander within the Revolutionary Guards’ Safety of Data Unit, tasked with oversight and supervision of the group’s work.
His arrest, mixed with the repeated assaults by Israel, rattled the management in Tehran, in line with the Iranian officers with information of the scenario. Some started quietly calling for Mr. Taeb to resign or be eliminated, the officers stated.
Mr. Taeb requested another yr in his publish to rectify the safety breaches, the individual affiliated with the Guards stated.
Then got here the plot to focus on Israelis in Turkey.
On June 18, an Israeli intelligence official, who spoke on situation of anonymity to reveal the intelligence information, stated that Mossad believed Iran was planning assaults in opposition to Israeli vacationers and residents.
The Israeli Counter-Terrorism Headquarters raised its alert for Turkey to the very best degree and informed all Israelis in Istanbul to lock themselves of their resort rooms.
The intelligence official stated that Israel had knowledgeable Turkey and shared info displaying that Mr. Taeb was behind the plot, which it stated was in retaliation for the killing in Might of Col. Sayad Khodayee, the deputy commander of one other covert Revolutionary Guards unit.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Overseas Ministry, stated final week that Israel’s allegations that Tehran had deliberate to assault Israelis in Turkey have been “ridiculous” and “a precooked situation to break the connection of two Muslim nations.”
Turkey arrested 5 Iranians and three Turkish nationals suspected of getting been concerned within the plot, seizing two pistols, two silencers and paperwork and digital materials containing the identities and addresses of people stated to be on the goal listing, Turkish information media reported. The Turkish authorities didn’t reply to requests for remark.
Mr. Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, stated final week that “cooperation is going down in any respect ranges” with Turkey and had yielded outcomes. The Turkish overseas minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, at a information convention on Thursday with Yair Lapid, his Israeli counterpart, stated that Turkey wouldn’t tolerate “score-settling” and “terror assaults” on its soil.
A regional alliance between Arab nations and Israel has been shaping up in opposition to Iran, and the disaster threatened to push Turkey, a key regional ally for Tehran, nearer to the Israeli camp. The Iranian overseas minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, was in Turkey on Monday for a gathering with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mr. Cavusoglu to debate the disaster.
“Turkey was the tipping level for Taeb, it made Iran look incompetent and elevated its vulnerability, and so they needed to lastly do away with him,” stated Omid Memarian, an Iran skilled with Democracy for the Arab World Now, an advocacy group primarily based in Washington.
Some conservative lawmakers in Iran have informed information shops that the alternative of Mr. Taeb was nothing out of the unusual and that his time period had merely come to an finish. However one tweeted that Mr. Taeb’s removing was one of the vital within the historical past of the Islamic Republic.
Mr. Taeb was changed by Gen. Mohammad Kazemi, the present head of the Revolutionary Guard Safety of Data Unit. Mr. Taeb has been moved to an advisory function to the commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards and to not Ayatollah Khamenei, which might have been extra typical for one of many ayatollah’s shut confidants.
On Saturday, Iran additionally changed the pinnacle of a Revolutionary Guards unit that gives safety for Ayatollah Khamenei and his household, and on Monday, a brand new head for the Guards’ Safety Data Unit was introduced. Extra reshuffling of senior commanders is anticipated, analysts say.
Hossein Dalirian, an analyst affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, stated in an interview, “It was obligatory after 13 years to have a frontrunner with new blood to handle issues going ahead.”
“It’s anticipated that safety and intelligence actions will get stronger and Iran’s enemies ought to anticipate extra heavier blows,” he added.
Safak Timur contributed reporting from Istanbul, Turkey.