Al Jazeera’s release of ‘Mossad cables’ falls short

As expected, Al Jazeera did not obtain an original and authentic document from the Mossad, Israel’s foreign espionage agency.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu points to a diagram of a bomb at the UN. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu points to a diagram of a bomb at the UN.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After promising to release a bombshell of leaked secret Mossad cables, Al Jazeera’s publication of documents late Monday fell short of that mark.
As expected, Al Jazeera did not obtain an original and authentic document from the Mossad, Israel’s foreign espionage agency.
What they published was a South Africa State Security Agency (SSA) document that is based on a briefing given to them by the Mossad. The document from 2013 contains no secrets and any reader, or follower of public reports on Iran’s nuclear program, especially the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is familiar with the facts written in that document.
The Mossad provided details in its briefing, such as the quantities of Iran’s enriched uranium at its two levels – 3.5 percent and 20% – about the development of Iran’s nuclear reactor at Arak, and its statement that Iran is “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”
That assessment was correct – it isn’t possible to utilize fissile material for a bomb only with 20% enriched uranium – an enrichment of 93% is required – and Iran did not have it at the time of the document’s writing, and doesn’t have it now.
Certainly it doesn’t present any evidence of a wedge between the Mossad and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.
The Mossad has liaison relations with many spy and security agencies. These contacts are run by its Cosmos (Tevel in Hebrew) department. Some of the meetings and exchanges are very intensive and intimate.
Both sides feel comfortable in each other’s company to share ideas and insights in a very candid and frank manner and even to share very sensitive information. In rare cases such meetings result in joint operations.
One case in point was the recent revelations that the CIA participated – though from the sidelines – in the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh seven years ago in Damascus.
Another example came to light this week from one of Edward Snowden’s documents, exposing a trilateral coordination between the signals intelligence (SIGINT) and eavesdropping agencies of Britain (GCHQ), America (NSA) and Israel’s Unit 8200, to listen to Iranian leaders three years ago.
The Mossad-SSA relations are of a different nature. Thirty years ago in the heyday of the all-white Apartheid regime, the relations between Pretoria and Jerusalem were excellent. The two countries cooperated in the military and nuclear fields and Israeli security goods were sold to South Africa. The last significant Israeli contribution was in the mid 90s when the Mossad gave an armored car to then president Nelson Mandela, as a gesture of goodwill.
Since then relations have only deteriorated.
Today the intelligence ties are cordial and ordinary, but not close. They reflect the cold, if not bitter ties at the diplomatic level between the two countries.
It is somewhat surprising that representatives of the spy agencies are supposed to have met at all.
It is unlikely, therefore, that the Mossad either confided in the SSA or gave, during the encounters, dramatic and sensitive information or estimates about Iran’s nuclear program.
Not to mention that the Mossad representatives would dare neither to speak publicly against, nor contradict the statements and policy of the government.
We don’t need a South African document to know that there is a wedge between the views and estimates of the Israeli intelligence community and Netanyahu. They don’t differ about facts and details, but about the interpretations and ramifications. It is no secret that the Mossad and Military Intelligence (AMAN), both in the past and the present, don’t share the warnings expressed by the prime minister.
Meir Dagan, both as head of the Mossad and after the end of his tenure, said in numerous public statements that even with all its nastiness and hostility and secret nuclear plans, Iran wasn’t posing an existential threat to Israel. His successor Tamir Pardo said in a private meeting, which was leaked, that the main troubling issue for Israel – is the Palestinian problem. These were blatant contradictions of Netanyahu’s position.
Israeli intelligence estimates are that Iran is working to be a nuclear power – a few months away from the ability to assemble the bomb – but not capable of building it now.
More than anything, Iran wants the international community to lift the economic sanctions.
Israeli intelligence researchers know that Iran is already on the verge of becoming a nuclear threshold state. It has the know-how, technology and materials to construct the bomb in a matter of a few months or perhaps a year, if and when, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives the order.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli journalist and writer who specializes in security and intelligence affairs.  He is co-author of  Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars.
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