Iran just raised the heat on simmering tensions in the Persian Gulf.
The Islamic Republic on Monday announced it had broken up what it calls a CIA spy ring, arresting 17 alleged agents, according to Reuters.
At least some of those arrested have already been sentenced to death.
As Reuters reported, Iran’s announcement could have more to do with its looming confrontation with the United States and the United Kingdom than actual intelligence operations.
“Such announcements are not unusual in Iran, and are often made for domestic consumption,” Reuters noted. “But the timing suggests Tehran could harden its position in a standoff with Western powers which has raised fears of a direct military confrontation.”
In a “Fox & Friends” interview Monday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said as much.
“It’s part of their nature to lie to the world,” Pompeo said. “I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions they’ve taken.”
It’s entirely possible Iran has broken up a spy ring, of course. Considering Iran has been waging a low-intensity war against the West since its Islamic revolution in 1979, it’s not surprising that the CIA or any other intelligence agency would be operating there.
But Iran’s recent actions on other fronts are more openly aggressive
On Friday, Iranian forces seized two British-owned oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. While one was allowed to resume its journey, the other remains in Iranian hands.
On Thursday, the U.S. announced the USS Boxer had destroyed an Iranian drone that came within 1,000 yards of the amphibious assault ship in the Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz. (Iran denies it lost any drones.)
In mid-June, Iran was blamed by the U.S. for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf.
On July 11, Iranian forces tried to seize a British tanker near the Gulf of Oman but were run off by a British naval vessel that was nearby.
On June 20, Iran shot down an American drone that U.S. officials said was operating in international airspace. (President Donald Trump called off a military strike that had been planned in retaliation, but the U.S. did launch a cyberattack against Iran.)
The most recent activity is widely seen as retaliation for the British seizure of an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar on July 4. The tanker was believed to be transporting oil to Syria in violation of U.N. sanctions.
And now, Iran announces it has broken up an alleged CIA spy ring and sentenced at least some of its members to death. All of those arrested were Iranian nationals, according to CBS News.
The announcement is sure to put a new focus on Iran’s standoff with the United States — and the West as a whole.
And the Persian Gulf crisis might be about to get hotter.
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