Ex-Mossad Chief Admits: Iran Enriching More Than Under Nuke Agreement

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Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli National Security Conference.
Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli National Security Conference.Credit: Haaretz
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Haaretz

The former head of Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, acknowledged in an interview with Haaretz that Iran has been enriching more uranium since the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal, a step that former U.S. President Trump took in 2018 with strong encouragement from then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Former Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen at Haaretz-UCLA conferenceCredit: Haaretz

Cohen was interviewed by Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn at the Haaretz-UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center conference on Israeli National Security. When the two discussed Trump's decision to withdraw from the deal, and Netanyahu's encouragement of such a step, Benn noted that ever since that step, Iran has been enriching more uranium than before. Cohen replied: "That's true." 

Cohen was asked about the fact that several of his predecessors, such as former Mossad chiefs Ephraim Halevy and Tamir Pardo, criticized Netanyahu for pushing Trump to withdraw from the deal. Cohen, as Mossad chief, oversaw an operation in 2018 to get ahold of Iran’s “nuclear archive,” which helped convince Donald Trump to get out of the deal.

"We had shown the Americans and the world that Iran lied all the way to the deal," Cohen replied. "Iran wasn’t coming clean on many issues that were hidden from the world.”

Cohen did not criticize the withdrawal from the agreement. But Israel’s former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who also spoke at the conference, called the withdrawal a “huge mistake” and said that it was worse than the agreement itself, which he opposed at the time that it was signed.

With regard to operations that the Mossad reportedly conducted deep inside Iran during his tenure at the helm of the agency, Cohen said: “You can damage and slow down their capabilities. Everything that we, according to foreign press reports, did in Iran, was to make sure that they keep enough of a distance in terms of capabilities.” He added, however, that the main problem remains Iran’s leaders' intentions, which cannot be changed by clandestine activities.

Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran.Credit: AFP

Cohen said that he is skeptical that an agreement will emerge from the negotiations that are about to begin in Vienna because Ebrahim Raisi, the recently elected president of Iran, is “not the same face of Iran that [his predecessor] Hassan Rohani was. He is much more extreme in his regional views, and I’m not sure Iran will agree to a deal.” Cohen described the negotiations as “motion with a lot of emotion,” but with only a small chance for actual success.

Watch the full conference here.

Despite the assessments of some former senior officials that it is now too late to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state, Cohen said that “it’s never too late. We have to adapt, in our minds, to the statement that Israel will never let the Iranians hold a military nuclear capability.” In response to a question about Israel’s ability to carry out a military strike against Iran by itself, Cohen responded: “I think Israel should have the ability to fight this aspect alone, like we did twice in the past in Iraq and Syria.”

Haaretz editor Aluf Benn noted that the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were “much less sophisticated, with one major facility,” unlike the Iranian program, which includes several sites spread across a large country.

“I assume it’s going to be complicated militarily, operationally, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” Cohen replied. “I think that if the State of Israel will decide to get rid of this program, we will have to do it.”

Earlier this year, an investigative report in Haaretz revealed that Australian billionaire James Packer gave Cohen $20,000 as a gift for Cohen's daughter’s wedding, an unusually large sum that prompted legal questions because it was given at a time when Cohen was still a public servant. Benn asked if Cohen had found a way to return the money, to which he replied “yes,” and that he now hopes the saga “is over.”

The conference on Israeli national security is a joint project of Haaretz English Edition and the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. The full conference can be viewed online here.

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