This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Report on October 2, 2023.
As America attempts to entice the Ayatollah to rejoin a watered-down nuclear deal, sending billions in sanctioned funds held in South Korea in exchange for four US hostages, the Mossad remains hard at work thinking about innovative ways to slow the Iranian march to a nuclear weapons threshold state. They know the Iranians have cheated before and will cheat again, as the IAEA, the international body in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, puts its hands over its eyes, mouth, and ears.
The importance of reading a new book titled Target Tehran: How Israel Is Using Sabotage, Cyberwarfare, Assassination – and Secret Diplomacy – to Stop a Nuclear Iran and Create a New Middle East for US policymakers and senators working on the Iran file is, if for no other reason, to remind them that the Islamic Republic is a habitual cheater.
The book is co-written by Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob and former Jerusalem Report editor-in-chief Ilan Evyatar. The authors’ compelling recounting of Mossad’s theft of Iran’s nuclear archive “showed that Iran had been lying to the international community for years about its nuclear program, falsely claiming that it was only for civilian use.” Undermining the nuclear agreement was a priority for Prime Minister Netanyahu, who needed evidence that Iran still has the desire to have a nuclear bomb, something the archives heist conclusively proved.
The book is compelling becauseTarget Tehran names and provides sources “that are critical to understanding the complexity of the Iranian program and Israel’s desire to stop it.”
As someone immersed in the Iran nuclear story, as seen from the halls of Congress, I found Target Tehran: to be an eye-opener in many ways. It was like taking off a blindfold to view the secret story of the Mossad’s never-ending efforts, through espionage, sabotage, assassination, cyber-attacks, HUMINT, and SIGINT, to thwart Iran’s relentless quest to become a nuclear power, making them immune to attack.
Before the controversy of judicial reform consumed Israelis, the Iranian threat was universally considered by the citizenry of the Jewish state to be the country’s primary challenge – not only Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also its hegemonic expansionism into the Levant to strangle Israel from the north, south, and east.
With America perceived to be leaving the Middle East, Target Tehran is required reading for Israeli and American government, defense, security, and intelligence experts, a sobering reminder that Iran is an unrelenting adversary for the West and remains Israel’s primary external existential threat. However, from an American point of view, Iran has become a tertiary issue and was never considered an existential one.
Target Tehran meticulously documents the decades-long attacks by Israel’s Mossad, sometimes in cooperation with America, to delay and dissuade Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear weapons state. The full impact of this book requires the reader to remain fully cognizant of what Iran really is: a revolutionary Islamist theocratic terror state whose primary goals are the destruction of the Jewish state, control of the Middle East, and humbling America.
Besides the breathtaking espionage stories revealed with comprehensive research, this book is unique in that it uncovers another side of the Mossad – its diplomatic initiatives that partly laid the groundwork for the Abraham Accords, and the hope for eventual normalization with Saudi Arabia. The professionalism of the Mossad and its accomplishments should make Americans feel more secure, knowing America’s primary ally’s intelligence service is so capable.
The book explains how Israel worked with Gulf nations behind the scenes long before the Abraham Accords came to fruition. Fifteen years ago, Israel used a Swiss holding company to sell the UAE eight hundred million dollars in spy equipment. As an aside, the Qataris, who do not have relations with Israel and closed their trade mission with Israel 16 years ago, told me that they use an Israeli anti-missile system to protect their airport in Doha. One day, they, too, will realize that open relations with Israel would benefit their economy and security. The Mossad is communicating with the Qataris today.
What made Israel’s regional adversaries cooperative friends was the Mossad’s capabilities in delaying Iran’s nuclear program, making Israel an indispensable ally against Iran, as US involvement in the region has been fading. They also realize that being friends with America’s best and most trusted partner in the region is an excellent position to be in to advance their security and economic interests.
Target Tehran often reads as a thrilling spy novel, but the truth is more powerful than fiction. Much of the book is a revelation of the covert actions of the Mossad over the past 25 years. As the authors say and prove, this “book brings to light the behind-the-scenes names, organizations, and sources that are critical to understanding the complexity of the Iranian program and Israel’s desire to stop it.”
One of the accounts that caught my attention was the revelation that Iran funded Syria’s nuclear facility, which Israel destroyed in 2007, which the US objected to at the time. The Iranian IRGC general Ali-Reza Asgari, who revealed the information, defected to the US.
There were failures, too. New information revealed that agents working with Israel in Iran had to be rescued by Israeli special forces, and “Israel had to dispatch planes or helicopters to preassigned destinations in Iran, where they picked up some members of the team and flew them to safety.”
There was the story that Mossad director Yossi Cohen restrained himself from acting on intelligence that showed vulnerabilities in Iranian security because of the potential international blowback Israel would suffer, as the IAEA and JCPOA signatory countries said Iran complied with the agreement. The authors also confirmed my thesis that Iran intended to walk up to but not cross the line of being a nuclear threshold state.
Despite Netanyahu’s disparagement of his one-time chief of staff Naftali Bennett when he became prime minister, according to the authors the “Barnea-Bennett pairing led to one of the most intense periods of Israeli operations against Iran ever…Bennett and his team quickly concluded that the (US) administration’s talk of a ‘longer and stronger deal’ was empty.” Bennett’s strategy was “death by a thousand cuts.”
Barnea-Bennett strategy was “to weaken the Octopus using the Cold War–style tactics that the US employed against the Soviet Union; that is, dozens of different measures. Bennett told us that he picked that particular moment to release the intelligence about Iran’s hack of the IAEA because he thought it could push the US away from the nuclear negotiations.” The number and importance of the sources who spoke to the authors is unprecedented.
As the authors conclude, “Regardless, Israel and the Mossad have made it clear that they will not accept a situation of a nuclear-armed, theocratic Shiite state determined to destroy it. As the United States and Iran met in Vienna in November and December 2021 to discuss a possible return to the nuclear accords, David Barnea spoke at an awards ceremony for twelve outstanding Mossad agents. Iran will not have nuclear weapons, he vowed, not in the coming years, not ever. That is my promise; that is the Mossad’s promise.”
After documenting this fantastic story, the authors ask the critical question: Have theMossad’s tactical successes achieved a strategic victory? Did they make a temporary or permanent difference? Time will tell.
One last tidbit I learned. Suppose President Biden or a future administration gets fed up with Iranian intransigence. In that case, there is an exception in the unsigned (by the US) JCPOA agreement that the Chinese and Russians cannot stop snapback sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Unfortunately, the West has chosen to ignore Iran’s transgressions, from its human rights abuses to enriching uranium to 84% to arming its terrorist proxies attacking Israel from all sides.
In the meantime, take the time to read this book if you care about Israel, the US-Israel relationship, and the stability of the Middle East. It will read like a novel, but you must remember that it is all too real. ■
Dr. Mandel is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) and Mandel Strategies, a consulting and advising firm for business and government officials in the Middle East, and regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides.