Much of what was in Saturday’s New York Times report about Israel’s covert war on Iran’s nuclear program was previously known, but some important new details tie together some dots in critical ways. Here are two new takeaways:
• Mossad/Israel like to hit Iran when it angers the IAEA
Israel and the Mossad will hit the Islamic Republic when it deems necessary, but it particularly likes to do so juxtaposed to when Tehran has angered the IAEA. The latest example the new report appears to reveal was on September 26.
Only weeks before, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi had celebrated cutting his first new deal with the incoming government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. But on September 26, the IAEA leaked that Raisi had reneged on the deal. That same day, the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group – part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization responsible for Iran’s liquid-fueled ballistic missile program, including the medium-range Shahab-3 – experienced an explosion and a fire.
With Iran’s routine of trying to kill the spread of negative information, it was initially unclear how significant the incident had been, though they mentioned two operatives were killed. However, by September 27, AP reported the site was the IRGC’s Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, which the US Treasury sanctioned in 2017 over its work “researching and developing ballistic missiles.”
On September 30, Image Sat. Int’l had revealed additional details about the identity, location and serious impact on the IRGC secret ballistic missile base. The base is connected to the same ballistic missiles that could be used to mount a nuclear warhead if Iran is able to complete its uranium enrichment.
However, explosions have happened quite often around Iran over the last 18 months, and only three incidents have been completely confirmed as sabotage, with Iran accusing the Mossad. The September 26 incident never led to an accusation by Iran, and unlike in prior instances, not even an anonymous Israel source took credit.
Now that sources (potentially Americans trying to deter Israel from continuing) have named Israel as the culprit, it seems apparent that Jerusalem made the decision to hit the IRGC ballistic missile base after the IAEA leaked Raisi’s reneging on his deal with Grossi.
This follows an earlier pattern when on June 19, 2020, the IAEA Board of Governors condemned Iran for the first time since before the JCPOA 2015 nuclear deal.
From June 25, 2020, through early August 2020, Iran was hit by a wave of around a dozen unexplained explosions. Some were actual poor infrastructure leading to gas leaks and other accidents, but some, such as the July 2, 2020, hit on Natanz, were a powerful and effective sabotage of the nuclear program.
Still unclear is whether the September 26 hit was a “covert strike” by IDF aircraft like the F-35, or possibly by a drone or some other method of attack by the Mossad.
• Mossad/Israel have shifted from uranium to weapons development
The Mossad and Israel may not have given up on thwarting or slowing Raisi’s rush to complete its uranium enrichment, but at least a strong part of their focus has shifted to sabotaging weaponization.
This is not only clear from the September 26 target being about ballistic missiles. The Times report also emphasizes that Mossad Director David Barnea brought new intelligence about Iran’s weapons group.
If the Islamic Republic gets to 90%, Jerusalem’s next firewall to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon is to slow and sabotage its weapons group.
There is wide debate on how much progress the weapons group has made since 2003, which is the end date of much of the secret nuclear archive that the Mossad seized from Iran in a stunning operation on January 31, 2018.
Many US intelligence officials have been leaking that Iran made almost no progress since then.
The Mossad agrees that Tehran’s progress slowed once it had to go underground, but has argued that aspects of weaponization – activities ranging from detonation activities, to designing vehicles for ballistic missiles to re-enter Earth’s lower atmosphere, to miniaturization of nuclear warheads – continued clandestinely.
This debate will now take on a new level of importance for the Mossad and IDF intelligence, with Iran potentially only weeks from the 90% uranium enrichment weaponization level.