By NILES LATHEM in Washington and ORON DAN in Tel Aviv
New York Post - New York, NY, USA

HELLHOLE: U.S. Marines are pulled from the rubble of their barracks in Beirut after the infamous 1983 terror blast that killed 241. Now, the apparent defection of a high-ranking Iranian general could implicate Tehran.March 8, 2007 -- A high-ranking Iranian general who may have defected is in Northern Europe, where he is being questioned about Iran's role in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and other terrorist acts, it was revealed yesterday.

Ali Reza Asghari, 63, whose grim face was displayed on Israeli TV last night, was spilling valuable secrets to an American intelligence team as a prelude to defecting to the United States, The Washington Post reported.

Asghari was Iran's deputy minister of defense and former top official of the notorious Revolutionary Guards. Experts said his secrets, should they fall into American or Israeli hands, could have devastating consequences for the Iranian regime.

In a scene straight out of a John le Carré spy novel, Asghari disappeared Feb. 7 from an Istanbul hotel where he was staying on a private trip - possibly with his family - and has vanished without a trace.

The United States denies it has Asghari in its custody, but has said little more about the case. Iran has accused the CIA and the Israeli Mossad of kidnapping him, and has asked the Turkish government to help in finding him.

Walid Phares, an expert on the Iranian-backed Shiite terror network, told The Post that Asghari would be able to provide intimate details about Iran's role in backing terror groups like Hezbollah, as well as provide some fresh details about Iran's nuclear program. "It's not a surprise that they are concerned. My contacts tell me the Iranian regime would regard his defection as a very big intelligence loss," Phares said.

Ram Igra, a former official with Israel's spy service the Mossad, said Asghari's greatest value may be his knowledge of the Revolutionary Guards he once commanded.

"In the 1980s and early 1990s, Asghari was responsible for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon. He lived in Lebanon, and, in effect, was the man who built, promoted and founded Hezbollah in those years," Igra told reporters in Jerusalem. "If he has something to give the West, it is in this context of terrorism and Hezbollah's network in Lebanon."

Danny Yatom, former Mossad chief and now Labor member of the Knesset parliament, said it appears to have been a well-orchestrated defection.
"He made sure not to leave anybody behind," Yatom said.

The 1983 bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 Americans, were Hezbollah's entrance into terrorism's big leagues, and led to the U.S. withdrawal of forces from war-torn Lebanon.niles.lathem@nypost.com

Iranian Official Defected to the West with Hizbullah Secrets

Naharnet: A former Israeli spymaster said on Wednesday that a former Iranian general linked to Lebanon's Hizbullah had probably defected to the West.
"Ali Reza Asghari (who mysteriously disappeared in Turkey) has probably defected to the West," said Danny Yatom, who was head of Mossad from 1996 until 1998 and is now an MP with the centre-left Labour party.

"If he reaches the United States, sooner or later that information will probably reach Israel. He played a major role in Lebanon for many years as Revolutionary Guards commander and he also knew much about Ron Arad," he told army radio.

Arad is an Israeli air force navigator who went missing after he ejected from a fighter-bomber during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

Mystery has continued prevail over Asghari's disappearance, amid accusations in Tehran he was snatched by Western spy agencies and suggestions in the Israeli media the Mossad may have been involved.

Asghari, a former deputy defense minister said to have information about Iran's nuclear program, is believed to have gone missing in Istanbul in February shortly after checking into a luxury hotel.

The Israeli media has said that while in the Revolutionary Guards, Asghari was Iran's liaison with the Lebanese Shiite Hizbullah.

It has also claimed he was in charge of "special missions" carried out by the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon in 1986, when Arad went missing.

Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Iran holds the key to the fate of the airman, but Tehran has denied that it has ever held Arad.(AFP-Naharnet)
Beirut, 07 Mar 07, 15:21