Analysis: Tehran plots force Iranian broadcaster from the UK

Ayatollah Khamenei > Tasnim News, CC BY 4.0

An independent Iranian TV station has been forced to close its London office and relocate to Washington DC due to threats by the regime in Tehran. The news came as Iran denied it has enriched uranium to 84 percent purity – just short of the level needed to produce an atomic bomb.

What happened

  • Iran International is departing the UK after it became a target thanks to its rolling news coverage of the protests in Iran.
  • The Metropolitan Police last week revealed a jump in the number of Iranian-directed murder and kidnap plots on UK soil.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday that it was in discussions with Tehran after news reports that the watchdog’s inspectors in Iran last week found uranium enriched to 84 percent purity.
  • The Jewish Chronicle reported that Iran is “mapping” the Jewish diaspora for an assassination campaign if Iran’s nuclear facilities are targeted by Israel.
  • Pressure continues to grow on the UK government to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Tehran’s ideological army which crushes dissent at home and directs its international terror network. Labour said earlier this month it supports banning the IRGC.

Iran International forced from Britain

On Sunday it was announced that Iran International will be relocating its office in London to Washington DC because Scotland Yard had warned the broadcaster that it could no longer guarantee the safety of its staff from Tehran’s murder and kidnap plots.

  • Founded in 2017, the independent broadcaster is staffed by Farsi-speaking journalists, including former BBC Persian journalists, and is beamed into Iran by satellite. Since September last year, it has been providing 24-hour rolling news coverage of protests against the regime triggered by the death in police custody of 22-year old Mahsa Amini.
  • In November, threats against staff at Iran International – which have included death threats against individual employees and hostile surveillance outside the broadcaster’s Chiswick office and the homes of staff – led the Metropolitan Police to deploy armed officers and vehicles to safeguard employees.
  • However, the discovery last weekend of a man allegedly caught filming security arrangements at the channel’s offices led the Met to advise Iran International that it needed to relocate. Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev – who took a taxi to Chiswick soon after arriving on a flight from Vienna – has been charged with collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.
  • Mahmood Enayat, Iran International’s general manager, said in a statement: “I cannot believe it has come to this. A foreign state has caused such a significant threat to the British public on British soil that we have to move. Let’s be clear, this is not just a threat to our TV station, but [to] the British public at large. This is an assault on the values of sovereignty and free speech that the UK has always held dear.”
  • Matt Jukes, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: “The situation that journalists face around the world and the fact that some journalists face such hostile intentions of foreign states while in the UK is a challenging reality that we are determined to confront.”
  • The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the Tehran’s threat against the broadcaster, saying they were a “blatant attack on free speech”.

One of many …

Last week, Jukes revealed that Iran has been implicated in 15 plots to kill or kidnap individuals in Britain since January 2020. The figure – provided by the police at briefing on plots from hostile states – represents an increase on the number of threats emanating from Tehran reported by the security services last November. In his annual threat assessment at the end of last year, Ken McCallum, director-general of MI5, said that Iran’s intelligence services had made at least 10 attempts to kidnap or even kill British nationals or individuals based in the UK. McCallum said the Iranian intelligence services were “a sophisticated adversary” which sometimes operated using its own staff or engaged others to work on its behalf. The Iranians were sometimes willing to take “reckless action”, he suggested.

… and Jewish diaspora “mapped” for assassination

Last week, the Jewish Chronicle revealed plans by Iran to murder prominent Jews if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities. Now a Middle East analyst, Catherine Perez-Shakdam contributed to pro-Iranian websites and the Russian propaganda TV channel, RT, and was trusted by the regime to such an extent that she is one of the few westerners to be granted an audience with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Her access came via the late-Nader Talebzadeh, who led propaganda campaigns and courted her as an ally. At a private event organised by Talebzadeh, Perez-Shakdam was told of a plan “to identify all the prominent NGOs run by Jews, who was doing what in each business sector, the important rabbis. They wanted to figure out their influence and where they lived with their families in order to target them.” Talebzadeh, she told the JC, was clear that the mapping exercise – which also involved determining “how to strike and where” – was preparation for assassinations to make “the diaspora pay a price”. The Community Security Trust called the revelations “utterly chilling”.

Nuclear threat rising

The threat posed by Iran at home takes place against the backdrop of the regime’s continuing efforts to attain nuclear weapons. Iran was previously known to have enriched uranium to 60 percent purity. But Bloomberg News reported at the weekend that IAEA inspectors had uncovered uranium enriched to 84 percent – 90 percent purity is regarded as nuclear weapons-grade.

  • While the regime branded the claims a “slander”, the IAEA confirmed it was seeking an explanation from Tehran.
  • A diplomat outside Iran told the AFP the percentage reported in the Bloomberg News story was correct, while the Wall Street Journal said on Sunday that diplomats believe that the samples come from work Iran had recently done at its Fordo plant. Two western diplomats told the WSJ they believed Iran had been speeding up the production of highly enriched uranium and testing ways they could produce weapons-grade material.
  • Iran has apparently told the IAEA it hadn’t intended to carry out the work. However, the WSJ said that while Iran had previously enriched uranium to purity a few percentages points above or below its intended target, there are no known cases where it “accidentally” produced material at 84 percent having supposedly been aiming at 60 percent.

What happens next: Ban the IRGC, says Labour

Last summer, LFI called for the government to proscribe the IRGC. While it continues to drag its heels – mirroring its eventually abandoned, years-long refusal to proscribe Hezbollah’s political wing – Labour has strongly and repeatedly backed a ban. That stance was reiterated by Holly Lynch, the shadow security minister, in parliament yesterday. “The IRGC are still free to organise and establish support here in the UK. We have to put a stop to that,” she argued, adding: “There are people appointed to posts here in the UK who are representatives of the supreme leader himself. Why are they still here?”