On Friday, an Azerbaijani court convicted Fayzi Bahram on charges relating to a plot to attack the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. According to the Azerbaijani press:
According to the indictment, Fayzi Bahram, an employee of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, wanted to explode the Embassy of Israel in Azerbaijan. In his testimony during the pre-trial investigation, Fayzi Bahram said that he moved Baku in 2006. Fayzi Bahram said that he had been instructed to organize unauthorized protests outside the Embassy of Israel in Baku, inflict harm on embassy employees and explode the building….
The story should concern American policymakers for a variety of reasons. First, is the fact that Bahram came to Azerbaijan in 2006. This suggests he was part of a sleeper cell. The notion of Iranian sleeper cells has been the subject of much discussion in the Gulf Cooperation Council over the past several years. And, before that, the trial into the 1992 Mykonos Café assassinations in Berlin suggested the presence of Iranian sleeper cells in Germany. Should Tehran have infiltrated sleeper cells in Western-oriented countries, and if both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are truly dedicated to a new approach, then step one would be for Tehran to unilaterally withdraw its operatives.
The second issue that is interesting is the fact that the suspect supposedly worked at the Ministry of Intelligence. While Western security officials tend to focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps when it comes to Iranian terrorism, Iran’s intelligence ministry has long run its own operations. In 2010, Kuwaiti security intercepted an Iranian intelligence ministry cell, allegedly planning assassinations of prominent Kuwaiti religious figures. The interesting thing about the intelligence ministry is that rather than contain them, Rouhani has actually empowered them.
Rouhani is a master diplomat. He has shifted Western perception of Iranian intentions. While the West is enthusiastic for diplomacy, it should take care about attributing sincerity to Rouhani, for there seems to be a dangerous dissonance between his words and the Islamic Republic’s actions.