It was a “revealing” interview.
Yossi Cohen, the outgoing director of Israel’s intelligence services, called Mossad, offered details on some of the country’s most prominent operations against Iran.
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Among other things, Cohen, who retired last week after more than five years as head of Israeli espionage, spoke of the theft of Iran’s nuclear archive in 2018, which allowed tens of thousands of documents to be taken out of the country bound for Israel.
Cohen also hinted at Israeli involvement in the destruction of the Natanz nuclear plant., in central Iran, and in the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the top scientist in the Iranian nuclear program, in November 2020.
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The former agent spoke with journalist Ilan Dayan on the show Uvda, of Channel 12 of Israel, that was transmitted by the television of that country last Thursday night.
Cohen joined the Mossad in 1982 after studying at the University of London and told Dayan that he had had “hundreds” of passports throughout his career.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him head of the Mossad in late 2015.
The most revealing moments of the interview centered on the theft of Iran’s nuclear archive, which occurred in 2018.
Cohen said in the interview that it took the Mossad two years to plan the operation..
In total, 20 Mossad agents were involved in the field, but none were Israeli citizens, journalist Ilan Dayan said.
The spy chief monitored the operation from a command center in Tel Aviv. The agents broke into the warehouse and had to open more than 30 safes, he said.
When images of the treasure appeared on the command center screens, “we felt an incredible emotion,” Cohen said, according to the newspaper. The Times of Israel.
All the agents survived the raid and are fine, he added, although some had to be “taken” out of Iran.
Netanyahu displayed the stolen files at a press conference in 2018.
The documents, he said, showed that Iran had covertly tried to manufacture nuclear weapons and that it had withheld technical know-how. Iran denied the accusation.
A remarkable interview
Raffi Berg, Middle East Editor, BBC News Online
While it is not unusual for former Mossad chiefs to grant interviews or make their views on certain issues known to the press, Yossi Cohen’s remarks are remarkable for the level of detail they provide.
In fact, The Times of Israel qualifies the interview as “amazing [y] revealing ”.
As if it were an episode straight out of the pages of a thriller, Cohen describes how agents opened safes before taking tons of Iranian nuclear documents and hauling them out of the country while they were being hunted.
Elsewhere in the interview, he comes closer than ever to admitting that Israel sabotaged an underground Iranian nuclear plant.
The interview, however, is calculated and would have been approved by Israel’s military censors.
The moment in which it happens is also interesting, since the conversations to reactivate the Iranian nuclear deal they are about to resume amid signs of progress.
It also serves as a kind of reminder to Israel’s enemies that Mossad is willing to act far beyond what it sees as enemy lines.
Sabotage of a nuclear plant
In the interview, Cohen also hinted at Mossad involvement in other operations that had long been rumored to be the work of Israeli agents.
At the beginning of it, the former Mossad director told Dayan that he knew the Natanz nuclear plant well and that he could take it to the basement “where the spinning centrifuges are located.” Then he added: “Today, the basement doesn’t look like it used to.”
In July 2020, Iran said sabotage may have caused a fire at that plant, a uranium enrichment complex measuring about 100,000 square meters and built eight meters underground.
Then, in April 2021, a day after showing new equipment, Iranian authorities said again that the Natanz plant had been sabotaged and had suffered significant damage. Iran accused Israel of “nuclear terrorism” for the incident.
The ex-agent also spoke about Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the most important nuclear scientist in Iran. Fakhrizadeh was killed on a highway outside Tehran in November 2020, an attack that Iran publicly attributed to Israel.
The former Mossad chief did not confirm or deny his involvement in Fakhrizadeh’s death. But he said the scientist had been a target “for many years”, adding that his scientific knowledge concerned the agency.
“If man has capabilities that endanger the citizens of Israel, he must cease to exist,” he said, according to The Times of IsraelBut he added that such a person could be saved “if he is prepared to change his profession and not harm us more.”
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