Monday was a hectic day for the intelligence community. Throughout the day,
officers from the Mossad and Military Intelligence were busy poring over the
hundreds of thousands of American diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, many
of which dealt directly with Israel.
At around the same time as the
intelligence officers were reading about Saudi King Abdullah’s request that the
US attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and cut off the head of the Iranian snake,
an explosion ripped through downtown Teheran killing a top nuclear scientist and
wounding another. The Iranians blamed Israel.
A few hours later, Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Tamir Pardo, a former deputy head of
the Mossad, was his candidate to replace Meir Dagan as its chief.
the three events do not appear to be directly related, all have to do with
Israel and the West’s efforts to stop Iran’s continued race toward nuclear power
and overall regional dominance.
The slain scientist, Majid Shahriari, who
reportedly was accompanied by bodyguards, was a member of the nuclear
engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University and an expert in neutron
transport, a field that lies at the heart of nuclear chain
Accusations that the Mossad was behind the assassination were
not pure speculation, since the tactic used to kill Shahriari is a known Mossad
modus operandi and has been used successfully in the past.
It is also not
the first assassination of Iranian scientists in recent years. In January 2007,
Dr. Ardeshir Hosseinpour was found dead in his office at the Isfahan conversion
plant, a key facility in Iran’s nuclear program.
He was believed to have
been “gassed” to death.
More recently, in January 2010, Dr. Masoud Ali
Mohammadi was killed when a motorcycle, loaded with explosives, blew up outside
the front door of his home in Teheran.
There have also been countless
reports of sabotage over the years. One well-known example was in 2007 when
power supplies used to regulate voltage current at the Natanz enrichment plant
blew up, destroying dozens of centrifuges. In other cases, European governments
and the US recruited companies around the world to purposely do business with
Iranians, but to sell them faulty components manufactured with undetectable
flaws. Most recently were reports of the Stuxnet virus.
A combination of
assassinations and acts of sabotage are clearly having their effect on Iran,
which recently admitted to having major technical difficulties at some of its
key facilities such as Natanz and Busher. It, for example, would have liked to
have today about 30,000 operational centrifuges; instead it has only several
On the other hand, it has already amassed some three tons of
low-enriched uranium and has a proven capability to enrich to higher levels of
about 20 percent.
This means it could, if it wanted to, enrich uranium to
the 90% levels and higher required for a weapon.
ACCORDING TO Israeli
intelligence assessments, Iran is just a decision away from making a bomb. If
the Iranians have been working on a weapons system, as Israel has claimed, then
once they make the decision making the bomb could take them just a few
If they have not been working on a weapons system, it could take
them anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
While the Iranians would likely want
to wait until they can create an arsenal of five to eight nuclear weapons, from
a public relations perspective it would be enough to manufacture and test one
since it would immediately bring them into the nuclear club.
That is why
even in Israel there is an understanding that in the absence of tougher
sanctions and diplomacy or military action, Iran will ultimately succeed in
becoming a nuclear power.
The strategy remains mostly the same – urge the
international community to ratchet up sanctions, continue preparations for a
possible military strike and keep on doing whatever the Mossad is believed to be
This is all the more important today as the heads of all of the
relevant agencies that work on the Iran file are being replaced. Last week,
Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, head of Military Intelligence for the past five years,
was replaced by Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Deputy Chief of General Staff
Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz was replaced by Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh.
At the end of
the month, Pardo will replace Dagan and in February and May Chief of General
Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval
Diskin will also leave their posts.
Some senior defense officials have
lamented this unprecedented changeover among the country’s top security brass
within such a short time as poor strategic planning by Netanyahu and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak.
“A changeover of this scope and within such a short
time is dangerous,” said one senior defense official. “At a time when decisions
will need to be made on Iran and war could break out with Hizbullah, it is
irresponsible to replace all of the military and intelligence chiefs in the
Whether this is true or not, it is a consolation that all of
the incoming intelligence and security chiefs are intimately familiar
material, and that there is also truth to the counter argument that it
is also important to insert fresh blood into the IDF, Mossad and Shin
for example, is a veteran Mossad operative who climbed the agency’s ranks after
serving as a communications officer in the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit
under Netanyahu’s brother Yoni, who was killed during the 1976 Entebbe rescue
operation. After joining the Mossad, he held a number of operational positions
utilizing his technical expertise.
Throughout his career in the Mossad,
he established strong ties with the IDF, which will undoubtedly come in handy
during his tenure as director. During the Second Lebanon War, for example, Pardo
set up an office down the hall from Maj.- Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, then the head of
the IDF Operations Directorate, and helped plan dozens of covert
The close work paid off. Relationships were established between
IDF generals and their Mossad counterparts and each side learned how the other
worked and how they could better utilize one another.
Pardo will have big
shoes to fill. Dagan, a former general, was parachuted into the Mossad to
rehabilitate the agency which was operationally paralyzed. Numerous sources
claim he has succeeded, discounting the possible failure earlier this year in
Dagan was also apparently much more than just a spy chief. As
demonstrated by the large number of WikiLeaks cables which he starred in, he
seemed to meet regularly with almost every American official coming through Tel
Aviv. In contrast, Ashkenazi has yet to appear in a single cable.
than anything, the WikiLeaks cables show that anyone who thought Iran’s nuclear
program was strictly an Israeli problem or was somehow connected to the outcome
of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was mistaken. With Iran just a decision
away from making a bomb, the question is whether there is still time to do
anything about it. Israel thinks there is.