Long-Planned and Bigger Than Thought: Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Program

When the Mossad raided a warehouse in Tehran in January 2018, and emerged with tens of thousands of pages of nuclear-weapons planning documents dating back nearly two decades, it clearly had the help of insiders. The killing of General Suleimani, the mastermind of Iran’s actions in Iraq and attacks on Americans — which was also based on intelligence, much of it given by live agents — was perhaps Mr. Trump’s most aggressive military move as president.

The Natanz explosion occurred inside the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center, where the country was building its most advanced machines, designed to produce far more nuclear fuel, far faster, than the old machines used until Iran dismantled most of its facilities in the 2015 accord.

While research on those machines was permitted under the agreement, they could not be deployed for years — and Iran’s crash effort to mass produce them was an ambitious effort to show that it could respond to Mr. Trump’s rejection of the deal by speeding up.

A study by the Institute for Science and International Security published Wednesday concluded that while the explosion “does not eliminate Iran’s ability to deploy advanced centrifuges,” it was “a major setback” that would cost Iran years of development.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who always leaps at any opportunity to denounce the Iranian government, twice declined on Wednesday to discuss the issue at a news conference.

But it is hardly a secret inside the State Department that Mr. Pompeo, who served as Mr. Trump’s first C.I.A. director, developed a close relationship with Yossi Cohen, the director of the Mossad, Israel’s external spy service. The two men talk often, making it difficult to believe that Mr. Pompeo had no idea about what was coming, if indeed it was an Israeli operation.

Just as the strike was happening, Mr. Cohen’s term was extended for six months by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, interpreted by many as a sign of things to come, since Mr. Cohen is a veteran of Iran operations. He was a key player in the sophisticated series of cyberstrikes known as Olympic Games that took out nearly 1,000 operating centrifuges at Natanz — near the site of last week’s explosion and fire — a decade ago. And as chief of Mossad, he directed the covert seizure of the secret nuclear archive.

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