September 8, 2015 | Policy Brief

Kuwait’s Espionage Revelations Could Disrupt Rapprochement with Iran

September 8, 2015 | Policy Brief

Kuwait’s Espionage Revelations Could Disrupt Rapprochement with Iran

Kuwaiti authorities recently disrupted an alleged terror cell linked to Iran and Hezbollah, and have begun exploring punitive steps against Tehran over allegations that two Iranian embassy officials are linked to the group.

On August 13th, Kuwait’s Interior Ministry announced the seizure of an enormous weapons cache buried under a farmhouse near the border with Iraq. Dispersed between the farmhouse and a few other residences, the arsenal included over 40,000 pounds of ammunition, 300 pounds of explosives, 68 weapons and 204 grenades, according to Reuters. Several suspects were immediately detained, and a Kuwaiti daily reported that several admitted to being members of Iranian-backed Hezbollah and having received military training in Lebanon.

The Kuwaiti government imposed a gag order on the subject, but then announced that prosecutors were filing charges against 26 individuals in connection to the case – 23 of whom are already in custody.  All but one of the suspects were identified as Kuwaiti nationals (the other as Iranian), and all but two were charged with spying for Tehran and Hezbollah to take “aggressive acts against the State.”

Iran’s Embassy in Kuwait issued a public complaint, but in response Kuwaiti authorities informed the local paper al-Jarida that under interrogation, suspects had admitted that two embassy staffers had held meetings with the cell. Another local paper added that the emir’s government was exploring punitive measures against the two diplomats or reducing the number of Iranians permitted in the country.

Al-Jarida also quoted unnamed sources as identifying the Iranian suspect as Abdolreza al-Dehghani, whom they said is married to a Kuwaiti woman but is currently out of the Gulf state. Dehghani, they said, has served in a financing and intelligence role for the cell and owns property in several countries.

The allegations follow earlier reports that three Iranian suspects linked to the case were “residing in the country under the sponsorship” of local money-exchange companies, and that one suspected cell member had acknowledged receiving over $100,000 from Hezbollah.

The illicit arsenal uncovered in Kuwait has elicited a furious reaction from politicians, one that seems likely to derail the nascent rapprochement between Iran and Kuwait symbolized by the emir’s trip to Tehran last summer.

The chairman of Kuwait’s foreign affairs parliamentary committee has said the case reveals Iran to be the “true enemy of the region,” and other MPs have called for downgrading relations or designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group. The latter could be a positive (if overdue) step that would set Kuwait apart from several other Gulf monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have refused to declare Hezbollah’s central branch a terrorist organization.

Since signing a nuclear deal with Iran in July, Washington has assured Gulf leaders that it will double down on efforts to check Tehran’s regional influence – particularly given the billions in sanctions relief that now await the Islamic Republic. The latest reports of Iranian espionage are likely to exacerbate those leaders’ concerns about Tehran’s malign intentions in the Gulf.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAWeinberg 


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