Iran has announced that it has uncovered a “CIA spy ring” and sentenced to death some of the seventeen alleged spies who have been arrested over the past few months. The exact number of those given a death sentence has not yet been specified. The move adds another twist to the tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States.
In a statement read on behalf of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry on state television, it was claimed that the alleged spies were “employed in sensitive and vital private sector centres in the economic, nuclear, infrastructure, military and cyber areas… where they collected classified information.”
An unnamed Iranian intelligence official told a press conference that the suspects were arrested over the course of the past few months in a quiet roundup of those believed to be compromising national security. The official, who journalists were told was the director of the counter-espionage department at the Intelligence Ministry, also claimed that none of the alleged spies succeeded in their sabotage missions. Some, he added, had switched sides and are now working with the ministry against the US.
Iran has also aired a television documentary detailing the phenomenon of widespread “CIA spying operations” within the country, with what is said to be a female CIA agent recruiting an Iranian man in the UAE. The woman, who is seen speaking Farsi with an American accent in the video released by the Iran-based Tasnim News Agency on Twitter, told the man that, “There are many intelligence officers in Dubai. It is very dangerous.”
— خبرگزاری تسنیم 🇮🇷 (@Tasnimnews_Fa) July 22, 2019
The espionage allegations and the sentencing to death of the “spies” come at a time of increasing tensions between Iran and the US. The latter pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal in 2017 and re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which is said to have shot down a US surveillance drone flying over southern Iran in June. The Gulf region, in particular the Strait of Hormuz, has also witnessed a series of attacks and seizures of various oil tankers over the past two months. The US blames Iran for the attacks last month, but the government in Tehran continues to deny this.
Earlier this month, Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion that it was transporting oil to Syria and breaking European sanctions. Iran responded to this by seizing a British-registered oil tanker last Friday.
As a consequence, the US has deployed five hundred troops to Saudi Arabia in order to increase its military presence in the region. There is already a large US Navy task force in the area.