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We penetrated ‘heart of hearts’ of Iran, outgoing Mossad head exalts at farewell

Yossi Cohen and Benjamin Netanyahu talk up raid on nuclear archive, other unspecified activities against Tehran, as head of spy agency leaves post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, new Shin Bet chief David Barnea, center, and Yossi Cohen, at a farewell ceremony for departing Shin Bet chief Cohen, on May 31, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, new Shin Bet chief David Barnea, center, and Yossi Cohen, at a farewell ceremony for departing Shin Bet chief Cohen, on May 31, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israel managed to infiltrate into the “heart” of Iran, the head of the Mossad said Monday as he bade farewell to the legendary spy agency.

Cohen’s comments came at the end of a five-year term as spy chief that is thought to have seen a significant expansion of covert actions against Iran, particularly its nuclear program.

That included the assassination of the father of Iran’s nuclear program and mysterious explosions at sensitive nuclear sites, which have been attributed to Israel, as well as a daring raid into the country’s nuclear archives, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed to the world in dramatic fashion in 2018.

“We penetrated into the heart of hearts of the enemy Iran,” Cohen said at a farewell ceremony alongside Netanyahu. “We acted to constantly gather intelligence and uncover its secrets, and undermined its self-confidence and haughtiness.”

Cohen said the operation to squirrel away the nuclear archive had “exposed to the whole world Iran’s military nuclear program, its plans, its preservation of capabilities in the military nuclear field and Iran’s fraud and lies.”

Netanyahu called the operation to sneak into the nuclear archive and smuggle the files to Israel “one of the Mossad’s most glorious achievements in all its days,” and “‘Argo’ on steroids,” a reference to a 2012 film based on an operation to smuggle US diplomats out of Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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)

Cohen and Netanyahu both remained mum on other activities to thwart Iran’s nuclear program that Israel has been widely assumed to be behind, including recent damage to centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility, which Tehran has blamed on Israel-directed sabotage.

“I don’t want to and cannot detail all that we did to fight the ayatollah regime that threatens to annihilate us. This evening as well most of these things in the realm of subterfuge should remain in the shadows,” the prime minister said.

He called Cohen one of the best Mossad heads ever.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Mossad head Yossi Cohen during a toast for the Jewish New Year on October 2, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Cohen was chosen to head the Mossad after serving as Netanyahu’s national security adviser, and was a key part of ultimately unsuccessful efforts to keep the Barack Obama administration from entering the 2015 nuclear deal.

Netanyahu said that he had told Cohen upon entering the Mossad position in 2016 that his foremost responsibility would be halting Iran.

“You pushed from your side and I pushed from mine,” he said, likely a reference to the premier’s vocal efforts to lobby the world against the nuclear deal, which the US under former president Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018.

Current US president Joe Biden has sought to start negotiations aimed at rejoining the deal, despite Israeli opposition. Those efforts have been complicated by ongoing covert action seemingly taking place against Iran, which has been pinned on Israel.

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 27, 2021, in Orlando, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Among those attending the ceremony Monday was former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, one of the architects of the Trump administration’s Iran policy.

On Sunday, Cohen called for Israel to step up activity against Iran “so that it understands that crossing the lines will cost it immense damage.”

Cohen’s tenure as Mossad chief ends Tuesday. He is being succeeded by David Barnea, a veteran of the organization who has been its deputy head for the past two years.

Last week, Netanyahu said Barnea’s top task as Mossad head would be “to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

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