Sometimes the Mossad seems like the intelligence community's answer to Hogwarts. The agency's tactics detailed herein are not secret, certainly not to the Iranians -- Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security plays the same game the world over, including in the United States. The Mossad simply plays better. Almost unbelievably so.
Recently, one of my sources, who has extensive and relevant experience as a CIA operations officer, was marveling at the Israeli 2007 air strike against Syria: "Israeli jets took off from Tel Aviv, flew all the way across Syria, and dropped bombs, destroying Syria's entire 'secret' nuclear cache. Then they flew all the way home, and the entire mission went undetected by Syrian radar that was state-of-the-art Russian technology. Somehow they caught the Syrians completely off-guard!"
To execute the attack, the Mossad first had to get wind of the shipment of nuclear material (possibly from North Korea), ascertain its hiding place, then disable Syria's myriad air defense installations. The effort on the whole, according to my source, "pushed the known boundaries of intelligence gathering capability."
The downside is the lesson given to the Iranians. They're wise to the radar trick now. "Also, while the Syrians had just one nuclear installation, in Iran now they have a gazillion of them, and they're all over the place."
No wonder Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the Iranian nuclear effort an "existential threat."
I asked my source: What's being done to thwart Iran?
Answer: Penetration of the Iranian nuclear apparatus at the highest levels. The basic precepts are as old as Sun-Tzu. The CIA is trying. The Mossad is more successful.
Q: Does the Mossad use its own operatives or foreign agents?
A: Agents -- Iranian nationals who work in Iran in a capacity that enables them to travel around the country at will.
Q: Why is traveling around the country important?
A: Your objective is to take pictures, map the nuclear sites, find out how deeply beneath the ground the sites are buried -- so you know what sort of bunker buster bomb is needed. Also trucks and trains are also important because they're necessary to supply facilities engaged in manufacturing weapons-grade uranium; a lot of times materials going in and out will tell a lot about what is going on inside... Essentially, you're casing Iran.
Q: In preparation for an air raid?
A: Yes. Satellites will give you a lot of that, but visits can be very, very valuable. Your agents talk to people in the towns near the sites, they talk to the guards in the barracks -- you can glean a lot of information from elicitation and observation. Also you want to know the population areas -- the Israelis are concerned about collateral damage.
Q: How does the Mossad recruit Iranian agents?
A: The recruitment of an Iranian source by a Mossad officer admitting to be Israeli is very, very difficult. The best method is using a false flag -- going by a different nationality. Perhaps you use a Persian-looking guy who is fluent in Farsi to pose as an Iranian. Or your officer poses as an officer of one of the intelligence services with whom Iran has good relationships, like the French. Or maybe you recruit an actual Frenchman to serve as your principal agent, and he in turn recruits the Iranian. The question is: What is your Iranian traveling-salesman type receptive to?
Q: Money? Blackmail? Honey traps?
A: For an asset like that, usually it's money.
Q: How much?
A: For a low-level guy in that part of the world, $1000 a month in an escrow account outside of Iran is a lot of money. Also he'll probably need an ideological tweak -- he needs to justify why he's spying, so he doesn't think of himself as a venal bastard. Maybe it's about world peace -- in which case you assess what your potential source likes or doesn't like about what Iran is doing. Maybe he doesn't like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So you pose as a faction trying to get Ahmadinejad out of office. Sometimes you even get someone who loves the USA -- Iran used to be our great ally pre-Jimmy Carter. The Iranians danced in the streets and wore lipstick and, all of the sudden, the Ayatollah came in and changed all that. Your fifty or sixty-year-old source remembers those times and often would like to go back.
Q: What about the reports that the Mossad is sending letter-bombs and anthrax-tainted mail to scientists involved in Iran's nuclear program?
A: Very doubtful. The Israelis are not interested in spreading anthrax. It's too dirty, too "terrorist." They prefer to strike surgically.
Q: Is there any rumint [blend of rumor and intelligence] on the prospective outcome?
A: The Israelis can't permit Iran to get a bomb. They can't allow another Holocaust. Without US help, it seems like they have no chance. Historically, though, they've shown a propensity to pull a rabbit out of the hat.