Tehran beware, Mossad knows everything

Iran will fear that anybody involved in planning retribution against the Israelis or Americans could meet a similar fate to Fakhrizadeh


The Iranian nuclear archive that Mossad stole three years ago revealed extraordinary detail of Tehran’s covert nuclear weapons programme. But the reason for undertaking such a risky operaion to remove an adversary like Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is not justified by such past activities, but more likely concern of what he might do in the future.

Fakhrizadeh was known for his work on the nuclear weaponisation programme, and it is logical that he was killed to deny Iran this expertise.  We shouldn’t ignore, however, the possibility that he was working on other technologies at the same time, which might have also been perceived to be a strategic threat.

Fakhrizadeh was the sole, senior Iranian official to have managed a secret nuclear weapons programme. His work would likely have involved every aspect of project management, from overseeing the budget to looking after personnel. He reportedly enjoyed a rare level of access to Iran’s Supreme Leader and senior military officials. 

He also had a reputation of being able to fend off his bureaucratic adversaries, having the backing of the most powerful men in the country.  Iran has many nuclear scientists, but his experience made him unique. Whoever his successor turns out to be, they will be highly unlikely to enjoy his stature, bureaucratic clout, or access to such senior leaders.

Several challenges will confront Iran’s Supreme Leader, should he authorise a new weaponisation programme. First, Iran’s adversaries have demonstrated tremendous capacity and skill.

Recently, Iran has suffered heavy losses. First, it lost its most sensitive nuclear archive to Israel.  Then, the US killed Major-General Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi accomplice, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in a surgical operation in Iraq.  After that, in August, al-Qaeda leader Abu Muhammad al-Masri and his daughter were killed in another surgical attack in Tehran. Now they have suffered the death of Fakhrizadeh, their top nuclear scientist. 

In addition, Iran has claimed sabotage at its nuclear installation in Natanz, as well as at other facilities. These operations showed that Tehran’s adversaries apparently have strong intelligence and a capacity to neutralise hostile actors without risking civilian casualties. 

One can’t help thinking that such operations are meant to discourage other Iranians from similar hostile actions, or even from taking the place of the individuals killed in these attacks.

Also, the proven ability of foreign intelligence services to uncover Iran’s most sensitive secrets will likely cause Iran’s leadership to wonder whether they can keep a nuclear weaponisation programme secret long enough to reach completion.

It is hard to imagine that Iran’s leaders wouldn’t believe – with good reason – that such a programme would be discovered well before they had constructed a single weapon. At that point, Iran would risk a diplomatic disaster, and possibly a military strike by its adversaries.

Lastly, it may well be that the nuclear archive stolen by Mossad had no backup in Iran.  This information provided not only the details of how to construct a nuclear weapon, but equally importantly, which methods didn’t work. Such knowledge would have allowed Iran to save much time on any future effort. Without these insights and Fakhrizadeh’s memory of them, any future Iranian nuclear weaponisation effort will take far longer to develop.

Tehan’s response to Fakhrizadeh’s killing will require time.  They will likely need to conduct an internal security review, if only to try to ensure that any retaliation won’t be discovered. They will fear that anybody involved in planning retribution against the Israelis or Americans could meet a similar fate to Soleimani, Abu Mohammed al-Masri, and Fakhrizadeh.

Norman T. Roule served in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for 34 years. From 2008 to 2017, he was National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I), responsible for US intelligence activities related to the theocracy

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