Netanyahu confirms he told Trump of Mossad op in advance

Iran atomic archive stealers, Hezbollah tunnel-busters win security prize

Award also given to creator of Shin Bet cyber unit that created program used to thwart dozens of terror attacks, team that made advanced missile

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showcases material he says was obtained by Israeli intelligence from Iran's nuclear weapons archive, in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. (Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showcases material he says was obtained by Israeli intelligence from Iran's nuclear weapons archive, in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. (Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday awarded Israel’s top security prize to the Mossad agents behind the operation to steal Iran’s nuclear archive last year, along with teams from the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service and defense industries, each for their own contribution in the past year to the country’s protection.

The award, which is named for the commander of Israel’s pre-state Hagana militia Eliyahu Golomb, was presented to the IDF project that located and destroyed a number of cross-border attack tunnels dug by the Hezbollah terror group from southern Lebanon into Israel.

A Shin Bet technology unit that developed an advanced algorithm to “detect hostile activities and prevent serious damage to the security of the state” also received the prize, along with a team from the Rafael and Elbit defense contractors, the Israeli Air Force and the Defense Ministry that developed an advanced air-to-ground missile, known in Hebrew as Barad Kal, meaning “light hail,” or more commonly the SPICE 1000.

The ceremony was presided over by Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Adam.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi award Shin Bet agent ‘Lamed’ with the Israel Security Prize in a ceremony at the President’s Residence on July 2, 2019. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

In his speech, Netanyahu called for US President Donald Trump to step up sanctions and other pressure against Iran in light of its enrichment of uranium beyond the 300 kilograms permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned last year.

He reiterated Israel’s longstanding policy to prevent hostile nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. “Those who threaten to annihilate us, are putting themselves and their leadership in danger,” he said.

The prime minister also discussed the Mossad operation to retrieve an archive of approximately 110,000 documents relating to Iran’s nuclear program from a warehouse outside Tehran, which he revealed publicly last April.

The operatives reportedly broke into the building where the trove was housed last January, removed the files and disks, and smuggled them back to Israel the same night.

Safes inside a warehouse in Shorabad, south Tehran, where Mossad agents discovered and extracted tens of thousands of secret files pertaining to Iran’s nuclear weapons program (Prime Minister’s Office)

Netanyahu confirmed a report from earlier this year that he had informed Trump of the Mossad’s plans to conduct the operation in advance, as well as the long-held assumption that his decision to reveal the theft of the archive was an effort to convince the United States to drop out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which it did in May.

“I approved this operation out of the belief that exposing [Iranian] plans would assist in persuading the president of the United States to leave the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran,” Netanyahu said.

“When I met [Trump] in Davos [in January 2018], I told him that I plan to send our people to the heart of Tehran to bring back archive materials.”

The prime minister said he had “no doubt” that the operation and the contents of the archive were key factors in Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal.

Tunnel busters, terror thwarters, bomb makers

A multidisciplinary team from the IDF Northern Command — comprising representatives of intelligence and technology units, as well as members of the Defense Ministry’s research and development division — also received the Golomb Security Prize for its work in discovering and destroying Hezbollah’s attack tunnels this winter in an effort dubbed Operation Northern Shield.

The team, known as the Laboratory, was formed in 2014 and tasked with finding the tunnels that the military suspected had been dug under the border by the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group.

Israeli soldiers stand around the opening of a hole that leads to a tunnel that the army says was dug by the Hezbollah terror group across the Israel-Lebanon border, near Metula, on December 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

“The work of this team allowed the IDF to carry out Operation Northern Shield in a way that enabled the discovery and neutralization of six attack tunnels,” the army said in a statement Tuesday.

The IDF believes the six attack tunnels were meant to be used by Hezbollah as part of a plan to conquer portions of northern Israel in a future war. The tunnels, which the IDF said were kept secret even within the terror group, were to be used in a surprise attack in Hezbollah’s opening gambit against the Jewish state.

A Shin Bet team led by a female agent who could only be identified by the first Hebrew letter of her name — “Lamed” — received the award on behalf of the security service for the development of a big data program that it says is used to predict and prevent terror attacks.

“Using these developments, along with the operational capabilities of the organization, many dozens of attempted terror attacks were stopped, hundreds of terrorists were arrested and a large number of significant terror attacks were prevented, including suicide bombings, explosive attacks and car bombs that were meant to be carried out against populations within Israel,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

“The system even allowed the Shin Bet to find and stop a number of armed terrorists who were en route to carry out attacks,” the security service said.

The Rafael SPICE 1000 smart bomb that can hit targets from great distance. (Rafael)

The fourth recipients of the security prize were representatives from Rafael, Elbit, the Defense Ministry and air force, who created the Light Hail, a more advanced version of the SPICE (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective) air-to-surface bomb.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the team earned the award for “equipping the IAF with advanced operational capabilities.”

Ordinarily, only three people or organizations receive the Golomb Security Prize each year, but a decision was made to grant it to a fourth this year in light of the impressive nature of the winning recipients.

“The four winning projects successfully address significant strategic threats to the State of Israel, and are characterized by their innovative, daring approach and superior operational capabilities,” Netanyahu said.

The Security Prize has been given yearly by the president since 1958. Though the prize is sometimes given for lifetime achievement, generally the recipients are responsible for the creation of a new piece of technology or a specific operation.

Over the years, the prize has been awarded to both individuals, like Uzi Gal who received the first Israel Defense Prize in 1958 for creating the Uzi submachine gun, and entire teams, like the group responsible for the development of the TROPHY anti-missile system that protects Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers, which won in 2014.

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