CIA Started Iran Street Protests With Help From Israel and Saudi Arabia, Prosecutor Claims

People gather to protest the high cost of living in Tehran, Iran on December 30, 2017. Getty Images

UPDATED | The CIA has teamed up with Israel and Saudi Arabia to spark the protests that have rocked Iran over the past week, Iran's prosecutor general said Thursday.

Speaking to the state-run news agency IRNA news, Iranian prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri alleged that a CIA agent is organizing the protests with support from Israel and financing from Saudi Arabia. Montazeri also said the CIA was getting assistance from groups of exiled Iranians, and that the U.S. intelligence agency planned to transform the protests into an armed insurrection in time for the February anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to the Associated Press.

Related: Are Women Leading Iran's Protests, Or Is the Western Media Obsessed With Feminism?

The CIA declined to comment. Iran watchers, however, say the comments from Montazeri are another attempt to discredit the protests, which began in late December in response to Iran's fragile economic situation and a spike in the price of eggs. Iranian officials have been blaming domestic unrest on foreign interference ever since the CIA conspired with Britain's intelligence services to foment a coup against then-Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, experts say.

"The idea is to discredit any notion that the protests are an organic, homegrown phenomenon. Iran has always, going back to the 1953 coup against Mossadegh, looked to outsiders," Benjamin Radd, a professor of political science at UCLA who focuses on the Middle East, told Newsweek about Montazeri's comments.

"Iranians have always believed in conspiracy theories and a hidden hand pulling the lever. So it resonates with that paranoid notion of Iranian politics."

People gather to protest over high cost of living in Tehran, Iran on December 30, 2017. Getty Images

A front-page article in Iran's state-sponsored newspaper Kayhan, released immediately after the protests began, blamed foreign infiltrators for the protests. The article also quoted the paper's editor saying the U.S., England, and Israel are responsible for Iran's economic difficulties.

Most recently, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Iran's unnamed "enemies" of fomenting the demonstrations, and said the country's enemies are meddling in Iran's affairs using "money, weapons, politics and intelligence services."

Khomeini did not go so far as to name the CIA directly, but Radd says the country's top leadership likely approved of Montazeri's comments.

"These lower-level individuals are mouthpieces for the regime, but they provide plausible deniability if the regime wants to distance itself from the comments," Radd told Newsweek.

An Iranian woman walks past pictures of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Getty Images

Still, President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of Iran since coming to office, and he and other Trump administration officials have spoken out in favor of the protesters. The president even hinted on Twitter that he would like to see regime change in Iran. The administration's tough stance on Iran makes it more likely Iranians will believe comments like Montazeri's, experts say.

"The prosecutor—Mohammad Jafar Montazeri—singled out the recently appointed head of the CIA's Iran operations, so it seems like he went fishing on the internet for his theory," Iran analyst Kevan Harris told Newsweek. "And given the long record of hawkish statements by CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Iran, it's a story which some people in Iran might find plausible."

The administration has repeatedly denied that it has had any involvement in the protests.

"The protests are symptomatic of longstanding grievances that have been left to fester by Tehran," an intelligence official told Newsweek. "The Iranian government faces a crossroads: will it address the legitimate concerns of its people, or suppress the voices of its own populace. What is clear is that these concerns are not going away."

On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert released a statement saying the U.S. would continue to monitor the protests closely.

This article was updated to include comment from an intelligence official.