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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

How Israel infiltrated Iran’s nuclear archive in daring blowtorch raid

Mossad agents raided a Tehran warehouse in the dead of night

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. AFP

With blowtorches, a layout of the building in southern Tehran, and just several hours to infiltrate and escape, Israeli agents from the Israeli Mossad secret service managed to secure the contents of 32 safes that held the details of “Project Amad”, Iran’s nuclear project, in the dead of night on January 31.

Israeli officials have shared new details of the daring raid with a select few Western outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, claiming that the seized documents show that Iran had grand ambitions for nuclear weapons.

They do not show that it violated the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement, but Israel says it shows that Tehran cannot be trusted. The Islamic republic maintains the documents are forgeries.

The new information shows how Israel’s intelligence officers came to secure the 55,000 pages and 183 CDs relating to the project. The find resulted in US President Donald Trump withdrawing Washington from the nuclear deal signed with world powers that reined in Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of crippling international sanctions.

The other parties to the deal – Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia – have restated their support for the agreement and are trying to salvage it.

The agents had just six hours and 29 minutes to enter through disabled alarms, break into the safes and leave the Iranian capital with thousands of documents. The target was a compound in the Shorabad district of the Iranian capital.

The Israeli intelligence service says it obtained knowledge of the building and its potential contents in 2017. The building was located in the midst of a row of industrial warehouses and only several Iranians had knowledge of what was going on inside.

They had information about the shift patterns of workers at the compound where the documents were stored. They would arrive at 7am, giving the agents time to use 3,600-degree blowtorches on large safes where the documents were contained.

The agents only opened the safes they believed to hold the most vital intelligence because of the size and weight of the total load of documents present at the site.

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How they made their exit remains unclear, but it is likely that they made their way to a border east (Turkmenistan), north (Azerbaijan), or west (Iraq). Whether they travelled overland or by air remains unclear. The distance from Tehran to Tel Aviv, the heart of the Israeli security apparatus, is a long journey at 2,000 miles.

The heist of the trove of documents has allowed Israeli experts to mine the information and share their findings with Western intelligence services, who they are trying to persuade that the Iran nuclear deal is a thankless agreement. The deal allows Iran to again produce nuclear fuel from 2030.

According to The Post, the documents show that Iran was “on the cusp of mastering key bomb making technologies” when the research was stopped in 2003. The secretive operation involved research into the construction of uranium metal and testing with a view to beginning a nuclear chain reaction.

But then that work concluded, scientists made plans to continue the operation covertly. “The work would be divided in two: covert (secret structure and goals) and overt,” an Iranian scientist writes in one of the seized documents.

Israel has its own covert nuclear program but Israeli officials regularly refuse to comment on its nuclear capabilities.

Officials who worked on securing the deal with Iran say that the evidence presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a dramatic April 30 broadcast actually reinforced the need for the nuclear deal, rather than showed that it was not enough.

American officials who worked under the Obama administration say that they had knowledge of Iranian intentions for a nuclear bomb, and worked for an agreement that halted those ambitions.

The Israelis refused to show the journalists some documents that included technical detail on how to produce a nuclear weapon and declined to confirm whether the documents would have allowed Iran to develop a functioning nuclear weapon.

But the new details show how far Iranian scientists were willing to go in the country’s pursuit of a nuclear device before its research program was shut off in 2003.