Iran General NewsIntelligence chiefs told of Iran's reprisal threat

Intelligence chiefs told of Iran’s reprisal threat

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Sunday Telegraph: British Intelligence chiefs were warned in January to expect reprisal attacks from Iran after America detained five suspected Iranian intelligence officers in Iraq. The Sunday Telegraph

Gethin Chamberlain, Tim Shipman and Kay Biouki in Teheran, Sunday Telegraph

British Intelligence chiefs were warned in January to expect reprisal attacks from Iran after America detained five suspected Iranian intelligence officers in Iraq.

Although the CIA alert led to the United States raising its official security threat level throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, Britain did not follow suit.

The warning came after the US received credible information that Iranian-backed extremists were plotting attacks on Western targets.

American intelligence analysts told their British counterparts that the arrest of the five Iranians would have a direct impact on southern Iraq. Crucially, they warned that there was evidence that Iran intended to step up attacks in the border area and around Basra, where British forces are based.

A security source said: “The intelligence was passed to the UK and was generally disseminated. The intelligence that led to the arrests showed that Iran was financing and facilitating operations on the border and in the South.

“But there was no raising of comparative threat levels by the British, even though the majority of casualties from Iranian weaponry have been the British, not the Americans. Perhaps we should have been more on alert.”

Relations between Iran and the West have deteriorated in recent months due to the diplomatic stand off over Teheran’s nuclear programme and a growing anger in Washington and London over Iranian interference in Iraq.

Both sides have accused the other of spreading misinformation and the US and Iran have each ratcheted up their military standing in the region, with the Iranians acquiring new missile capabilities and the US moving two aircraft carriers into the Gulf.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is under pressure at home over his management of the ailing Iranian economy and he has been openly criticised for antagonising not just the West, but also traditional allies such as Russia, with his hardline stance on the nuclear issue.

Iran’s capture of the 14 British servicemen and one servicewoman in the Gulf, close to the Shatt al-Arab waterway which separates Iran from Iraq, took the British military by surprise. Senior defence officials said the incident was unlikely to have been a misunderstanding because British and Iranian forces were well-versed in the niceties of working cheek by jowl.

“We have a non-escalatory posture with respect to the Iranians,” one senior official said. “Day in, day out, working in a difficult situation, you tend to work out how to react.

“No one wants to be in a position where you get into a shooting war with somebody. Our posture towards them, and theirs towards us, is to avoid confrontation.”

The sailors and marines were seized as they returned to their small rigid inflatable boats after boarding a ship suspected of being involved in smuggling in the waterway.

A defence official said they had completed their mission, which was described as “amiable”, and were preparing to return to the Type 22 frigate Cornwall, from which they had been operating, when they were surrounded by Iranian gunboats.

Given the overwhelming odds, they had no choice but to go along with the Iranian demands, the official said.

The Ministry of Defence yesterday declined to explain why Cornwall had failed to spot the approach of the Iranian gunboats, or why it had not then intervened.

The five Iranian officials arrested in northern Iraq in January were accused of membership of the al Quds force, which mounts overseas operations. Two other suspected members of the group, which is the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guard, were picked up in Baghdad in December and expelled.

Members of the Revolutionary Guard, which owes its allegiance directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, were behind both the latest seizure of British personnel and the capture of eight British servicemen in similar circumstances on the same waterway in 2004. The unit’s commanders recently threatened to retaliate against what they say is a campaign of kidnapping of its officers by western intelligence.

Some sources in Teheran last night suggested that the captured Britons would be released “within a day or two”. “Iranians have no intentions of creating another international dispute with the world, and it is not likely that they would allow this to escalate into a bigger diplomatic problem,” one source said.

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