Iran said on Tuesday it had identified a “major terrorist group” it said was affiliated to its arch-foe Israel and had arrested some of its members, the official IRNA news agency reported, citing an Intelligence Ministry report.
Tensions are running high between Iran and Israel, which has not ruled out a military strike on the Islamic Republic if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve a row over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
Iranian officials have warned that the response to any military strike would be painful and have said Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping thoroughfare.
“Iran’s Intelligence Ministry announced it has identified a major terrorist group from the Zionist regime (of Israel) and has arrested some of its protected operational members inside the country,” IRNA reported, without saying when the arrests had taken place.
The semi-official Fars news agency said the suspects were arrested “while preparing to carry out terrorist acts”, adding that a considerable number of bombs, machineguns, military and communication equipment had been seized.
Tehran has in the past accused Israel of being behind the killings of several of its nuclear scientists. In January the Islamic state blamed Israel when a nuclear scientist was killed by a bomb placed on his car by a motorcyclist in Tehran.
IRNA said on Tuesday that the arrests, made in border and central provinces, were the result of months of complex intelligence operations.
For security reasons and because of “possible attempts by the Zionist regime to carry out harassing operations”, further details will not be announced until later, Iranian media quoted the intelligence ministry as saying.
Iran denies Western suspicions that its nuclear program has military goals, saying it is for purely peaceful purposes.
Iran and Israel have been arch-enemies since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, and Tehran periodically announces the arrest of people suspected of spying for Israel.
Under Iran’s penal code, imposed after the 1979 revolution, espionage can carry the death penalty.
Israel, believed to be the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, along with the United States and Western allies, accuse Iran of using a civilian nuclear program as cover to build atomic weapons.
Iran denies the charge, saying it wants to use nuclear power to generate electricity and enriched uranium for medical purposes. Nuclear talks are set to resume in Istanbul on Saturday.
Editing by Tim Pearce