The paper in question is Asharq Al-Awsat, which, it so happens, is managed by the half-brother of Saudi King Abdullah. You’ll recall from last night’s post that another Saudi paper, al-Watan, was early with the story of the general’s disappearance. Fancy that.

Anti-Shia propaganda, or do they know something?

The Iranian former deputy defense minister who disappeared in neighboring Turkey last month is said to have sought asylum in the United States. Tehran said was Ali Reza Asghari went missing while on a private trip to Turkey.

The pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat on Tuesday quoted high-profile sources as saying that Asghari left for the U.S. shortly after arriving in the Turkish capital…

Al-Sharq al-Awsat’s sources … claim the official was not abducted but left for the United States “along with the secrets he carried.”

Naturally, the chief of Iranian police disagrees.

That last link quotes a Turkish paper as saying the missing general, Asgari, was involved in nuclear work, but the reports about that thus far seem thin. What everyone does agree on is that he was heavily involved with Hezbollah in Lebanon throughout the 1990s. Assuming he was abducted, that would make Mossad a primer suspect than the CIA given Israel’s greater need for intelligence in that area. Or would it? Asgari’s expertise with Hezbollah would be useful in training the militias in Iraq — which is what Debka implies he was doing:

The missing general has been identified as the officer in charge of Iranian undercover operations in central Iraq, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence and Iranian sources. He is believed to have been linked to – or participated in – the armed group which stormed the US-Iraqi command center in Karbala south of Baghdad Jan. 20 and snatched five American officers. They were shot outside the Shiite city.

If you see any other reports about him being linked to the Karbala attack, please tip us. That would pretty well rule out the possibility that he defected and lend weight to the “reprisal abduction” theory.

Exit question: if we do have him, how much heart-ache do you figure CIA interrogators are using him to inflict on Andrew Sullivan right now? (Exit answer: Lots!)