Blowtorches in the night: Israel briefs US media on Iranian archive heist
The two articles published on Sunday by the New York Times and the Washington Post, both of which contain over 2,000 words, offer new details of the Mossad operation. The mission had previously been reported when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pushing the Trump administration to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Israeli officials briefed the two newspapers last week on the details of the operation and handed over some of the documents stolen by Israeli agents from the Iranian warehouse.
According to the NYT report, the Mossad operation on January 31 was made possible by the fact that the building was not guarded overnight. Iran had used the facility to store documents relating to its nuclear research since the 2015 deal was signed.
Israeli agents used a seven-hour window to disable alarms, break through two doors, and cut open 32 pre-selected Iranian-made safes with blowtorches to steal materials weighing half a ton. The report says the Israelis knew which safes to crack and which not to, implying that they had help on the inside. The operation was compared to the ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ heist film by Israeli officials.
The newspapers said the documents had proven that a clandestine nuclear weapons program existed in Iran, but was halted in 2003, confirming earlier US assessments. It added the documents provided to journalists had been handpicked by the Israelis, “meaning that exculpatory material could have been left out.” It stressed the authenticity of the documents could not be independently verified, but that US and UK intelligence officials said they believed the trove to be genuine.
Israel has long insisted that Iran did not stop nuclear military research after 2003. Some of the documents shown to the media detail Iranian scientists discussing how some of the research necessary for creating a nuclear weapon could be conducted in secret. None indicate that such clandestine efforts actually took place, or that Iran in any way breached the 2015 agreement. The Israeli officials who briefed the Western journalists maintained that the archive proved that the deal was a bad one.
“It explains why the [nuclear deal] to us is worse than nothing, because it leaves key parts of the nuclear program unaddressed,” one official said, as cited by the Post. “It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
Western experts told both newspapers that the archive offered few new revelations about the Iranian program and simply proves the validity of the rationale behind the deal: to put in place safeguards against Iran rushing towards a nuclear weapon. Israel, which is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, insists that the very fact that Iran stored the documents had proven Tehran to be a threat to Israel that needs to be contained.
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