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Ex-Mossad head: Political leaders want Iran sabotage attributed to Israel

Efraim Halevy says potential retaliation by Tehran dependent on its upcoming elections, nuclear talks with US; adds Iran has means to hit Israel that it hasn’t previously used

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

A former head of the Mossad spy agency said Monday that he believes Israel’s political establishment wants Sunday’s sabotage attack that reportedly caused massive damage to an Iranian nuclear facility attributed to Israel.

“Apparently all those who are interested in this issue in the State of Israel, at the leadership-political level, are interested in things being attributed to Israel,” Efraim Halevy, who served as the country’s top spy in 1998-2002, told the Ynet news site.

“Therefore, this action is presumably the action of those being pointed to.”

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the underground Natanz facility suffered an electrical disruption, and possibly an explosion, in what was widely speculated to be an Israeli cyberattack. Iran said the attack did not cause any casualties and did not cause radioactive pollution.

Halevy said there had been a change in policy by Israel, with the country apparently no longer seeking ambiguity in its actions vis-a-vis Iran. “Not long ago, Israel did not take responsibility for such activities,” he said.

“This policy has been led by the prime minister, who has spoken in an unequivocal manner” on the subject.

Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, at a conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

In addition to an ongoing, largely covert fight on the nuclear front, Tehran and Jerusalem are engaged in a maritime shadow war, with each side blaming the other for explosions on vessels.

Halevy would not be directly drawn in on whether he was in favor of the apparent end of the ambiguity policy when it came to actions such as the alleged Israeli strike on the Natanz facility.

“Every policy has both advantages and prices, and the prices are clear, because they limit Israel’s ability to conduct not only an active-offensive policy, but also a policy of secret talks under the conditions that arise,” Halevy said.

“The policy of ambiguity is not solely a policy of the Mossad, it is a policy of the Israeli government, of the security cabinet, of the prime minister. It is not a policy of the head of the Mossad, that he decides what to publish and what not. So things need to be seen in broader contexts,” he said.

Israel made no official comment on the incident at Natanz, but officials, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down, have hinted at Israeli responsibility.

The New York Times cited American and Israeli intelligence officials confirming that there had been an Israeli role.

The Israeli comments, along with Hebrew media reports attributing the cyberattack to the Mossad, marked a significant change.

Israel is normally completely silent on the secret exploits of its security services, and Israel’s military censor routinely prevents publication of such details, forcing local media to cite foreign media reports, but that did not happen this time.

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector disconnects the connections between the twin cascades for 20% uranium production at Natanz nuclear power plant south of Tehran on January, 20, 2014. (Kazem Ghane/ IRNA/AFP/File)

Halevy also said that Iran had the ability to attack Israel using methods it has not yet deployed against the Jewish state.

“The campaign against the Iranians is a campaign that has been going on for many, many years, with ups and downs. Each side is using its own means. The Iranians have many means that they are not using against us, they used then against Saudi Arabia nearly two years ago, when they attacked a Saudi oil site and destroyed it,” he said, apparently referring to the 2019 combined drone and cruise missile barrage on two facilities that knocked out half of the kingdom’s oil production.

When asked whether he believed there would be Iranian retaliation for the alleged Israeli strike, Halevy said that the two key factors were the upcoming Iranian elections and the ongoing talks over the US potentially reentering the nuclear deal.

“I guess it will depend quite a bit on how much the Iranians have an interest in reaching renewed talks with the US. They are currently pursuing a very tough policy in Vienna, before [direct] talks, but I assume they have an interest in resuming talks with the US and therefore, that would be a consideration,” he said.

Levy’s comments came as Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed Israel for the power failure that reportedly caused massive damage to the Natanz nuclear facility, vowing to “take revenge on the Zionists” and to replace damaged centrifuges at the site with even better ones.

Iran has called the incident an act of “nuclear terrorism.”

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, Tehran claimed it had identified the individual behind the attack and would arrest him. The report was based on the comments of an unnamed intelligence official who spoke to the Nournews website.

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