Early this week Iran said it had detained 17 suspected CIA spies, declaring they would be sentenced to death. The U.S. denies these claims. Javed Ali, Towsley Policymaker in Residence at the Ford School, spoke about the credibility of Iran’s claims and the backdrop of such tensions with Elaine Quijano of CBS News on its July 22, 2019, segment titled “U.S. denies claims Iran arrested 17 CIA spies” with his interview beginning at the 1:50 mark.
Quijano begins the segment by asking Ali how skeptical onlookers should be to Iran’s claims. “I myself am skeptical of this claim,” Ali responds outright, saying that people should look at Iran’s actions in the “backdrop of the cycle of escalation that’s been happening and whether this announcement was designed to show that Iran can demonstrate ability.” Wondering what Iran hopes to gain from this announcement, Ali speculates that it’s possible they are going for “some sort of demonstration effect. That if the United States can play tough with it in the Persian Gulf, if the United States can issue sanctions, if it can send troops to the region, then Iran theoretically could make an impact on U.S. intelligence operations against it.” Still, Ali says it is unclear that this was truly a “disruption to U.S. intelligence activity.”
Discussing other moves by Iran, such as their attack on British tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, Ali says this is another example of Iran flexing its muscles. Importantly, though, Ali says Iran is still “very careful not to over-escalate...there were no shots fired, no abuse of any of the ship’s crew, so these seems to be mutual attempts to demonstrate capability.”
This all puts the ongoing talks of denuclearization between the U.S. and its allies and Iran into focus. Ali ends the interview by bringing attention to how these different demonstrations of power shift peace talks, stating that “each small retaliation between the U.S. and the U.K. and Iran could have an impact, certainly if things escalate.”
Watch the full interview here.