Diplomats, Passports & Spies in Egypt
When it comes to Iran’s shadowy diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, it’s not easy to get a precise handle on its modus operandi. Unlike in the west, open-source information is sparse (no Library of Congress report here!), and what does trickle out is quite stingy (and occasionally convoluted).
Nevertheless, after noticing a certain pattern I decided to focus my previous post on Iran’s activities in the Gulf States. Scanning the region further, the case of Egypt caught my eye: not only because of similarities to the Gulf, but also to Asia. The common denominator: Diplomats, spies and passports.
The Case of Qassem Hosseini
Iranian diplomat Qassem Hosseini was arrested in Cairo back in 2011, and subsequently deported, for organizing spy rings to gather classified information about Egypt and the Persian Gulf states – including information about the economy, politics, and military – in return for money. He reportedly passed the information to Iranian intelligence.
Egyptian prosecutor Taher El Khouli accused Hosseini of trying to organize spy rings in the country while working in the Iranian Embassy in Cairo as an undercover operative ( spying equipment banned in Egypt was found in his home). Luckily for Hosseini, he was saved by diplomatic protocols he had violated himself and used his diplomatic immunity to escape.
Interestingly enough, right around the time of Hosseini’s arrest his foreign minister, Ali Akhbar Salehi, held an important meeting with his Egyptian counterpart on the sidelines of an international conference. In view of Salehi’s well-documented efforts to promote Iran’s strategic interests, we wouldn’t be surprised if they discussed the diplomat’s release.
More Arrests, Rapprochement, Silence
This wasn’t to mark the end of Tehran’s strange doings in Egypt. A year later, three Iranians carrying fake Turkish passports were arrested and interrogated by the security services after trying to enter the country from Iraq. While a significant incident, perhaps it was brushed aside because Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had just risen to power.
Indeed, by the end of 2012 there were signs of a Cairo-Tehran rapprochement: a meeting between intelligence heads, a visit by Qods force commander Qassem Suleimani and a meeting between Morsi and Salehi.
These developments were short-lived, particularly in view of further political changes in Egypt (the recent arrest of an Egyptian returning from Iran – with policemen’s uniforms well concealed in his suitcase - after he allegedly failed to find work is probably an indication of this). But one thing has surely not changed: Iran’s continued exploitation of diplomatic privilege in countries of the region. For Tehran, there’s no difference between Cairo and Riyadh.
- Report: Iran’s Spy Chief Secretly Advised Muslim Bro-hood in Attempt to ‘Send a Message to America’ (theblaze.com)
- Salehi, Epitome of Iran’s Uranium (& Plutonium) Diplomacy (shadow-diplomacy.com)
- With friends like these – Iranian Diplomacy in the Middle East (part 1) (shadow-diplomacy.com)