Mossad said to foil Iranian attacks on Israeli embassies in Europe, elsewhere

Report comes as tensions between Israel and Iran grow, following claims Jerusalem was behind bombing of Natanz nuclear facility that reportedly set back work there by 2 years

An Iranian protester holds an anti-Israeli placard during an annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran, Iran, June 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)
An Iranian protester holds an anti-Israeli placard during an annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran, Iran, June 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)

The Mossad spy agency recently foiled planned or attempted Iranian attacks on Israeli diplomatic missions in Europe and elsewhere, according to a report Monday.

The report by Channel 12 said the names of the countries where attacks were prevented remain under censorship, but cooperation with them helped to thwart the attacks.

“Frustration is growing fast in Iran,” the report said.

No other details were available, and no sources were named.

In 2012, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, the terror group Hezbollah, seemingly attempted to carry out a number of attacks against Israeli diplomatic missions in India, Georgia, Thailand, and elsewhere.

Monday’s Channel 12 report also said that an attack on the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, credited to Israel, had managed to set back Tehran’s uranium enrichment program by two years, citing Western intelligence estimates.

A report by Channel 13 on Sunday claimed the attack only set back the work by a single year.

A building Iran claims was damaged by a fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of Tehran, on July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

A Middle Eastern intelligence official was quoted Sunday by The New York Times as saying the fire that damaged a building used for producing centrifuges at Natanz was sparked by Israel.

The unidentified official said the blast Thursday at the nuclear complex was caused by a powerful bomb.

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

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

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at the Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman has hinted that the official cited in the report is Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that he would extend Cohen’s term until June 2021, citing unspecified “security challenges.” The spymaster is famed in the Mossad ranks as an operations man. Under his watch, the Mossad has grown in personnel and budget, and has reportedly focused on espionage operations targeting the Iranian nuclear program.

An Israeli TV report Friday night said that Israel was bracing for a possible Iranian retaliation if it determines that Jerusalem was behind the Natanz explosion.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz played down the speculation on Sunday, saying that not everything that happened there could be blamed on Israel.

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

A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows a damaged building after a fire and explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, on July 3, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

Iran had sought to downplay the damage from the blaze, though analysts said it had likely destroyed an above-ground lab being used to prepare advanced centrifuges before they were installed underground.

“We first learned that, fortunately, there were no casualties as a result of the incident, but financial damages incurred to the site due to incident were considerable,” said Iran’s atomic agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi.

He confirmed that the damaged building was a centrifuge assembly center and not an “industrial shed,” as earlier claimed.

“More advanced centrifuge machines were intended to be built there,” he said, adding that the damage would “possibly cause a delay in development and production of advanced centrifuge machines in the medium term.”

Authorities have pinpointed the source of the fire, but are withholding the information for national security reasons, he said.

The building was first constructed in 2013 for the development of advanced centrifuges, though work was halted there in 2015 under the nuclear deal with world powers, he added.

When the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, the work there was renewed, Kamalvandi said.

He said that the fire had damaged “precision and measuring instruments,” and that the center had not been operating at full capacity due to restrictions imposed by Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran began experimenting with advanced centrifuge models in the wake of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the deal two years ago.

In this frame grab from Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran, June 6, 2018. (IRIB via AP/File)

In 2018, Iran showed off IR-2, IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges at the site, in what was seen as a warning to Europe to stick to the nuclear deal after the withdrawal from the accord by the US. Pictures have also purported to show IR-8 centrifuges at Natanz, though Iranian officials have also said the site could not yet handle the ultra-advanced centrifuges.

The fire was one of a series of mysterious disasters to strike sensitive Iranian sites in recent days, leading to speculation that it may be the result of a sabotage campaign.

Iran long has denied seeking nuclear weapons, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.

Western concerns over the Iranian atomic program led to sanctions and eventually to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The US, under President Donald Trump, unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018, leading to a series of escalating attacks between Iran and the US, and to Tehran abandoning the deal’s production limits.

AP contributed to this report.

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