Israeli officials admit assassinations inside Iran: TIME
Israel’s intelligence services have scaled back covert operations inside Iran, ratcheting down by “dozens of percent” in recent months secret efforts to delay the enemy state’s nuclear program, senior Israeli security officials tell TIME.
The reduction runs across a wide spectrum of operations, cutting back not only alleged high-profile missions such as assassinations, but also efforts to gather firsthand on-the-ground intelligence and recruit spies inside the Iranian program, according to the officials.
The new hesitancy has caused “increasing dissatisfaction” inside Mossad, Israel’s overseas spy agency, says one official. Another senior security officer attributes the reluctance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the official describes as worried about the consequences of a covert operation being discovered or going awry. Netanyahu was Prime Minister in 1997 when a Mossad attempt to assassinate senior Hamas official Khaled Meshaal in Amman Jordan ended in fiasco. Two Mossad operatives were captured after applying a poison to Meshaal’s skin, and returned to Israel only after Netanyahu ordered the release of the antidote. The prime minister also was forced to release Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin from an Israeli prison, dramatically boosting the fortunes of the religious movement.
“Bibi is traumatized from the Meshaal incident,” the official says. “He is afraid of another failure, that something will blow up in his face.”
Iranian intelligence already has cracked one cell trained and equipped by Mossad, Western intelligence officials earlier confirmed to TIME. The detailed confession on Iranian state television last year by Majid Jamali Fashid for the January 2010 assassination by motorcycle bomb of nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohmmadi was genuine, those officials said, blaming a third country for exposing the cell.
The situation could change if the Islamic Republic produced a captured Israeli national or other direct evidence – something on the lines of the closed circuit video footage and false passports that recorded the presence of Mossad agents in the Dubai hotel where Hamas member Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found dead in his room in January 2010. Difficult-to-deny evidence of Israeli involvement trickled out for weeks; Netanyahu was prime minister then as well.
Some warn that the assassinations already run that risk. After the most recent killing, of nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in January, the United States “categorically” denied involvement in the death and issued a condemnation. Western intelligence officials say he was at least the third Iranian scientist killed by Mossad operatives, who lately are running short of new targets, according to Israeli officials.
The covert campaign also invites retribution from Iran.