ANALYSIS: How Israel and Others Exposed Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 |  Yochanan Visser

This week two leading American newspapers  published articles about how exactly the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, broke into a warehouse in Tehran, Iran to steal a giant trove of documents dealing with Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.

During a dramatic six-and-a-half-hour during nightly operation on January 31, 2018 the 100 men-strong Mossad team broke into the warehouse via two doors after disabling the alarm system of the building in a commercial district in Tehran.

They then cut through a number of large safes by using torches that burned at least 3,600 degrees and left the capital of Iran at 5.00 AM two hours before Iranian security agents arrived for the morning shift, according to the New York Times.

The Israeli team knew exactly which safes contained the most critical designs for the production of nuclear weapons and how much time they had for the operation after a year-long surveillance of the warehouse which was not guarded by Iranians during the night to avoid drawing attention to the secret facility.

Last week, Israeli intelligence officials revealed that the planning of the operation began in 2016 when the Mossad obtained intelligence Iran had decided to consolidate and to conceal a large number of documents and disks its past illicit nuclear activities.

This happened after Iran and six world powers in the summer of 2015 reached an agreement called Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) on its nuclear activities which aimed to delay Iran’s ability to break out to a nuclear bomb.

The controversial agreement was implemented early 2016 after the Obama Administration and other governments cancelled biting sanctions and released frozen Iranian assets.

During the briefing one of the Israeli intelligence officials likened the Mossad operation to the casino heist in the movie ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and said Israel had specific intelligence steering the team “to focus their efforts on specific safes,” according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

When the operation in the warehouse was completed two hours before Iranian security agents  arrived the Mossad team left Tehran with some 50,000 pages and 163 compact disk of videos, designs and memos detailing Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.

The New York Times showed a part of the Iranian archive to Robert Kelley, a nuclear engineer and a former inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

“It’s quite good,” Kelley told Times reporter David E. Sanger and Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman, the writer of the 2008 book “The Secret War With Iran”.

“The papers show these guys were working on nuclear bombs,” Kelley concluded after reviewing the documents detailing Iran’s secret Amad Project which was officially halted in 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq.

“The Iranian program to build a nuclear weapon was almost certainly larger, more sophisticated and better organized than most suspected in 2003,” other nuclear experts told The New York Times.

The documents shown to the American papers dealt with a nuclear warhead for Iran’s Shihab-3 long-range ballistic missile and described plans to built five nuclear bombs in the initial stages of the Amad Project.

After halting the Amad Project officially Iran shifted “many of its activities into the newly formed Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research,” according to WSJ.

The new details on Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program coincided with the publication of new German intelligence report by the state of Hesse which states that the Islamic Republic still  seeks to acquire  weapons of mass destruction.

The German report claimed Iran and North Korea are trying to “circumvent control mechanisms in countries that are not especially subject to embargo restrictions.” 

One of these countries is Syria which Iran is currently turning into another client state.

On July 11 Yossi Kupperwasser, a former top IDF military intelligence official told participants in a conference organized by the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs that a “major purpose of Iran wanting to enlarge its footprint in Syria may be to hide aspects of its nuclear program from the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

The German magazine Der Spiegel as well as the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (the good ISIS) have reported – based on extensive research- that Iran is probably operating an underground nuclear facility in Qusayr in the Qalamoun Mountains near the Lebanese border.

The Qusayr site is guarded by the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and was referred to by a high-ranking Hezbollah official as “the atomic factory”.

Der Spiegel already reported in 2015 that 8,000 fuel rods were stored at the Qusayr facility, where three building conceal entrances to tunnels.

In March this year a ISIS team lead by former IAEA inspector David Albright came to the conclusion that while “evidence remains inconclusive there is reason to believe that Syria, apparently with help from North Korea and Iran, built a new underground nuclear facility in Qusayr.”

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