When Iran counterstrikes Mossad in secret war - analysis

Even the legendary spy agency has screw-ups, which may have happened this past week.

A SATELLITE view of Iran's Fordow nuclear plant. (photo credit: GOOGLE)
A SATELLITE view of Iran's Fordow nuclear plant.
(photo credit: GOOGLE)

Although the focus in recent years has been on a list of allegedly astounding Mossad operational successes against Iran and Hamas weapons scientists, the spy agency is not perfect and is staffed by flesh and blood, fallible people.Sometimes the Islamic Republic or other adversaries counterattack and hit their target. This past week may have been one of those times.

Tehran claimed that a series of missile strikes killed and injured around a dozen Mossad agents at an alleged facility in Erbil, Iraq, giving specific numbers, and details about how the alleged agents were subsequently evacuated.

Iran also claimed to have busted a Mossad cell that was seeking to sabotage its Fordow nuclear facility. Sources have indicated to The Jerusalem Post that Fordow is one of the agency’s primary targets.

This is something that is not surprising since it is the second most crucial nuclear facility for uranium enrichment and it may be the most crucial in the later stages of nuclear weaponization.

Further, the degree of information issued by the ayatollahs was unusually detailed in terms of using a neighbor to approach a member of Fordow’s IR-6 advanced centrifuge unit for enriching uranium.

Iranian media coverage of the event framed it with an unusual amount of modesty, including acknowledging many past Mossad successes against Iran, something which gave the reports some rare heft.

On the other hand, there have been numerous times that global media has expressed heavy skepticism about Iranian announcements of busting Mossad agents that seemed incoherent. Many such “Mossad busts” are a mere cover to arrest local opposition officials.

It is unknown whether Turkey’s announcement of arrests of alleged Mossad agents this past October – including its bizarre posting of pictures of the alleged spies and their alleged initials, but not their alleged names – was real or similar fake news.

In addition, the Post understands that at least one announcement by Tehran of thwarting a Mossad assassination attempt on former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani in 2019 – who was assassinated by the US in 2020 – was misleading or completely false.

But if former Mossad deputy chief and current Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ram Ben Barak rejected the Turkish claims as patently false, neither he nor any other Israeli officials issued such loud denials this past week regarding Iran. And there are documented Mossad failures.

IN 2010, several alleged Mossad agents were caught on CCTV in the UAE during an operation in which senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated.

This created a diplomatic nightmare for Israel, as many allied Western countries accused Jerusalem of using their passports and some identities of their citizens to infiltrate the Emirates.

It is not as if such a tactic would make the Mossad unique among intelligence agencies, but getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar is different and Israel faced real diplomatic punishment for years.

The book Harpoon discloses intelligence assets in the Lebanese banking system, such as Lebanese Canadian Bank fraud auditor Munir Z.

The breakthroughs, which allegedly reaped benefits for Israel’s fight against financial terrorism, did not come without loss, with Munir Z. eventually being caught and killed by Hezbollah in 2009.

Intelligence operations rarely come without risk and require complex calculations about balancing agents’ safety with pushing them to obtain more intelligence breakthroughs.

Some, though not all, of Hezbollah busts of alleged Israeli intelligence assets, in the last several years appear to have had some truth to them.

There is the failed 1998 assassination attempt of Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Jordan in which several Mossad agents were captured.

They were released only after Israel provided the antidote demanded by King Hussein, and released Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Ben Barak was once allegedly captured in Cyprus in 1991 during a mission that flopped.

There have also been many Mossad agents who turned out to be double agents or were feeding the agency false information just to feel part of an adventure.

During the 1973 Lillehammer Affair, the Mossad assassinated the wrong man, sparking a major scandal. Many Mossad officials incorrectly predicted that Egypt would not go to war with Israel in 1973.

After former US President Donald Trump leaked Israeli-attributed intelligence to Russia about ISIS, several Israeli and US intelligence officials said that successes and failures occur all the time, and the public learns about only some of them years later.

China and Iran eliminated dozens of CIA agents in 2010-2013 when they cracked communication codes. And at least one CIA agent ratted on fellow agents.

Russian intelligence infamously breached US intelligence via double agents Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, in the 1980s and from 1979 to 2001, respectively. So sometimes Israel’s adversaries really do draw blood.

But however fallible the Mossad may be, it is nearly universally acknowledged to be the top clandestine agency for penetrating Iran. The intelligence it provides the US and the West sometimes makes Israel even more valuable than its status as “the Start-Up Nation.”