The Mossad has scaled back covert operations inside Iran, cutting secret efforts to disable or delay the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program "by dozens of percents" in recent months, Time Magazine reported Friday, citing senior Israeli security officials.
According to the report, a wide array of operations have been cut, including alleged high-profile missions such as assassinations and detonations at Iranian missile bases and efforts to gather intelligence and recruit spies inside the Iranian program.
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The cutbacks have not been well-received within the Mossad, causing “increasing dissatisfaction,” one official told Time. Another senior security officer blamed the reluctance on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is concerned that covert operation could be discovered or go awry.
The report notes that Netanyahu was prime minister in 1997 when a Mossad attempt to assassinate senior Hamas official Khaled Mashaal in Amman, Jordan ended disastrously; two Mossad operatives were captured after attempting to poison Mashaal, and returned to Israel only after Netanyahu ordered the release of the antidote. The prime minister was also forced to release Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin from an Israeli prison.
“Bibi is traumatized from the Mashaal incident,” the official told the magazine. “He is afraid of another failure, that something will blow up in his face.”
Cutting operations carries costs
Iranian intelligence has already apprehended one cell trained and equipped by Mossad, prompting one alleged agent of the Israeli secret service, Majid Jamali Fashid, to confess on Iranian state television that the assassination of nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohmmadi in 2010 was genuine, those officials said.
According to the sources, Iran's limited credibility curbed the public damage that could have been caused to Israel. As per the report, however, the stakes are higher now, and any further embarrassment could undo the global unity that the US has assembled against the Iranian nuclear program.
But while the covert activity runs the risk of public relations damage and retribution from Tehran, scaling back on the operations also carries costs, especially as Iran hurries to disperse its centrifuges and hide some facilities deep underground. One Israeli official told Time that Iran estimates that the sabotage to date – including the release of the computer virus known as Stuxnet – has set back its centrifuge program by two years.
On Thursday, Foreign Policy magazine reported that top American officials believe Israel has secured access to airbases in Azerbaijan, possibly as part of its preparation for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Azeri officials denied the report.
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