On the night of January 31, 2018, the spies, the analysts, the technicians, and the operations chiefs of the Mossad, the State of Israel’s fabled intelligence arm, were gathered inside the agency’s state-of-the-art situation room on the outskirts of Tel Aviv to oversee an operation that they all knew could turn out to be momentous for their country—or, if things went awry, disastrous.
Yossi Cohen, the dapper chief of the agency, dressed in his usual crisply ironed white shirt, sat at a desk, keeping his eye on the time, while the whole room was in a state of tense expectation, waiting for him to give the order for one of the Mossad’s most audacious operations to begin. On the surrounding walls, an array of plasma screens glimmered, as if waiting for the satellite video feed of the operation to appear on them, providing a real-time view of what was taking place on the ground hundreds of miles away.
The Mossad's sleepless nights
Cohen and dozens of Mossad agents had been working for days, almost without sleep. The moment had arrived. At exactly 10:31 p.m., Cohen said, “Execute,” carefully enunciating each of the syllables of the command, which set in motion a Mossad team poised for action in Iran, specifically in the Shirobad industrial neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Iran’s capital, Tehran. Shirobad wasn’t the kind of place you would imagine as the scene of a spy drama with international consequences.
It was just a drab zone of corrugated-iron-roofed warehouses stretching as far as the eye could see. But on that night, two dozen selected Mossad operatives—most likely a mix of Israeli agents and Iranians opposed to the Islamic Republic’s theocratic regime—were propelled into a swift, well-rehearsed motion.
While Cohen watched the clock back in Israel, they broke into one of the warehouses, used high-temperature blow torches to penetrate a series of steel vaults, and began to remove files, physical and electronic, that contained the entire record of Iran’s strenuous effort to become a nuclear-armed power going back to its beginnings nearly thirty years before.
Cohen watched the clock because time was of the essence. The team in Iran had exactly six and a half hours to find the vast amount of material they needed, load it onto trucks, and make their escape, or they would be discovered, and the mission, with all its months of meticulous planning—data analysis, risky intelligence gathering by agents infiltrated into Iran, and more—would come to naught, and two dozen lives could be lost to the tender mercies of Iranian justice.
The largest intel heist in the history of espionage
It was a long night stretching into the morning, but as the Mossad’s top people watched on their screens in Israel, the team in Shirobad walked out of the warehouse with half a ton of hard files and compact discs—perhaps the largest physical heist of intelligence materials from an enemy capital in the history of espionage. Within hours, they were racing toward Iran’s border, their movements camouflaged by empty trucks, decoys being driven on fake routes in several fake directions.
Back in the situation room outside Tel Aviv, a sense of triumph mingled with a sense of relief. All that planning, money spent, and months of surveillance were paying off.
Back in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who had served for decades as his nuclear weapons chief, hadn’t a clue about what was going on in Shirobad, where they had secretly moved the archive precisely to keep it out of the hands of the Zionist enemy, the US, and the IAEA.
The above is an excerpt from the authors' upcoming book TARGET TEHRAN with Simon & Schuster, launching on September 26.