Liberman appears to accuse Mossad head of leaking Israeli role in Iran attack

Without calling out Yossi Cohen by name, Yisrael Beytenu leader places blame on an intelligence official seeking to succeed Netanyahu as Likud head

(L) Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on June 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90) Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at  Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)
(L) Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on June 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90) Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman on Monday appeared to call out Mossad chief Yossi Cohen for leaking to the press Israel’s alleged role in a blast at an Iranian nuclear facility last week.

The right-wing opposition MK did not identify Cohen by name during an Army Radio interview, but hinted at his role.

“An intelligence official says that Israel is responsible for an explosion in Iran on Thursday. The country’s entire security echelon knows who it is,” Liberman said, referring to the source of a Sunday New York Times report.

The US paper cited “a Middle Eastern intelligence official” who said a fire that damaged a building used for producing centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site was sparked by Israel.

This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

“I expect the prime minister to shut [the leaker’s] mouth, especially since he has started his Likud primary campaign,” Liberman added. Cohen has been mentioned as a possible successor to Netanyahu.

The spymaster has in the past been accused of leaking sensitive data to the media, as has Liberman.

Last year, Mossad officials denied that the director of the intelligence agency had given an interview to an ultra-Orthodox magazine, days after Cohen was quoted by the publication supposedly threatening a top Iranian general, discussing assassinations of Hamas officials, and talking about his aspiration to be a future political leader of Israel.

In February, Liberman revealed that Cohen and a military general had traveled to Qatar earlier that month, in an interview that was considered to have violated the military censor. The Yisrael Beytenu party head defended the decision, saying the order blocking the publication of the meeting had been political.

Liberman’s Army Radio remarks came less than a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would extend Cohen’s term by six months until June 2021.

That announcement followed a week that saw a series of unexplained blasts at Iranian nuclear facilities attributed by overseas analysts to Israel’s clandestine services.

Cohen is considered a close adviser and confidant to Netanyahu, who pulled him from the Mossad’s ranks in 2013 to appoint him national security adviser. Cohen succeeded Tamir Pardo as head of the Mossad in January 2016.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, October 15, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

An Israeli TV report Friday night said that Israel was bracing for a possible Iranian retaliation as officials in Tehran suggested that a mystery fire and explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility the day before could have been caused by an Israeli cyberattack.

The unidentified official who spoke to The New York Times said the blast Thursday at the Natanz nuclear complex was caused by a powerful bomb.

A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also told the newspaper that an explosive was used, but didn’t specify who was responsible.

The Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel wasn’t linked to several other recent mysterious fires in Iran over the past week.

Iran on Sunday admitted that Natanz incurred “considerable” damage from the fire last week, as satellite pictures appeared to show widespread devastation at the sensitive facility.

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