Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s theatrical presentation of proofs that the Islamic Republic and Revolutionary Guards had been engaged in developing a nuclear weapon for 12 years (2003 to 2015) – and lied about it – may impact US domestic politics as much as the administration’s foreign and security policies. The show was the outcome of a private collaboration led by President Donald Trump between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he was still Director of the CIA and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
DEBKA Weekly can reveal how this joint project came about and was executed. In mid-201, Pompeo informed Trump of the arrival on his doorstep of Mossad Director Yossie Cohen with an intriguing proposal from Netanyahu. Israeli intelligence had received a hot tip from the Iranian exiled opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq: Iran’s secret Atomic Archive had been traced to a hiding place in Tehran and a group of sentries were willing to make the trove available in return for hefty bribes. The senior officers also demanded a safe escape route from the country with their families.
This guard detail belonged to an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) established specially to guard the archive and other secret sites, under a high-profile officer of the IRGC. (This week’s issue devotes a special article to this leading light of the Islamic regime and his probable fate for letting the precious nuclear archive disappear from under his nose.)
Cohen noted that the archive, as far as he knew, covered the secrets of Iran’s nuclear program in exhaustive detail – but only up until 2015, when the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was concluded between Iran and six world powers. Any Iranian contraventions of the deal might or might not be covered by these files. The Mossad chief had no doubt that Iran continued secretly to develop a nuclear weapon, in violation of the deal, at secret sites unknown or inaccessible to inspectors of the Vienna-based IAEA, but assumed the evidence was out of reach elsewhere, possibly at the defense or intelligence ministries.
Nonetheless, Pompeo opted in favor of seizing the chance to get hold of the Atomic Archive, and Trump agreed to sign a presidential directive for the clandestine operation to go ahead.
Our intelligence sources reveal that the CIA, the Mossad and the Mojahedin e-Qalq each activated its undercover agents in Iran for the perilous task of bribing the guards one by one, for retrieving the archive files, whether as photocopies, downloads or originals. Their task was to then smuggle the 100,000 documents, tapes and files out of Iran to Iraq as ordinary air freight. The palms of flight and airport personnel were heavily greased in advance. From Iraq, the precious cargo was flown to Jordan. There, Israeli and US agents passed the half-ton of precious materials from hand to hand up to the Israeli border.
Those files provided Trump with valuable political tools in three vital areas.
- They offered documentary evidence that Iran cheated in negotiating the nuclear deal with six world powers. This evidence could help President Trump throw off the some of the pressure – even from parts of the Republican Party and US intelligence – to stick with the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran when it comes up for renewal on May 12. He can demonstrate that Iran negotiated in bad faith, having denied the existence of a nuclear weapons program, while keeping it intact and ready for reactivation for a short run to a bomb. In the event, the Netanyahu laid out the case for the president to maintain that since Iran has repeatedly lied, why trust it now?
- Trump acquired a tool for exposing President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as misleading the American people and allies into trusting Iran’s false assertions that the Islamic Republic had never sought a nuclear weapon because it is contrary to its religious beliefs. Nailing his Democratic predecessor for knowingly signing a deal built on Iranian lies might help Republican candidates to pull ahead of the Democrats in the US midterm elections in November and narrow the widening gap between them. Trump needs all the ammunition he can get to avert a Democratic Senate majority since their party leaders are after his impeachment.
- President Trump feels he holds more cards for his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to lead to denuclearization. Trump is quoted as commenting that “killing the Iranian nuclear deal will send the right message to North Korea.”
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK) is a political-militant organization based in Paris and Washington that advocates the violent overthrow of the Islamic regime in Tehran and its replacement by a secular administration. Its leader, the charismatic Maryam Rajavi, has set up a government in exile. The organization has a network of secret cells in almost every large and medium-sized town in Iran. It also maintains working relations with the CIA and the Mossad, to which it has for many years passed important information on key military events and Iran’s nuclear developments.
In 2009, Mojahedin agents were instrumental in planting the Stuxnet malware that disabled the computers of Iran’s Russian nuclear plant at Busheir. In the same year, they revealed to the CIA and Mossad the existence of the clandestine Fordow underground enrichment site. This revelation forced President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to give Tehran an ultimatum to either shut down the site and dismantle the centrifuges or face attack.
Then, in 2012-2014, Mojahedin hitmen carried out a series of assassinations of key nuclear scientists. In those years, their agents provocateurs stirred up protest demonstration against the regime in one town after another.
In recent months, the organization has turned all its attention to getting hold of the Atomic Archive.
Neither American nor Israel sources have so far leveled on which parts of the 55,000 documents and 50,000 recordings reaching Israel were originals or copies, photos, or recorded segments of materials left in the safes in Tehran. Furthermore, our sources confirm that the materials showcased by the Israeli prime minister represented less than half of their contents: The remaining 60pc is still being translated from the Farsi with the help of nuclear experts for technical terms. Netanyahu did not reveal all the material already processed, keeping back some of the stolen archive in reserve and available for his own use or that of President Trump. The acquisition broadens the US president options on May 12. He also hopes it can be of use in his effort to pull President Vladimir Putin away from his close alliance with Tehran in Syria.