TEL AVIV – The Iranian drone reportedly laden with explosives that infiltrated Israeli airspace in February was a possible retaliation for the Mossad’s theft of Iran’s nuclear weapons archive, a senior Israeli intelligence official told Ynet, adding that the few Iranians who were privy to the existence of the trove attempted to recapture it immediately from Israeli operatives.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed the operation in a live broadcast on Monday showing dozens of documents with the aim of proving that Iran lied about its nuclear ambitions and its weapons program could be reactivated at any time.
Calling it one of the “greatest achievements” of Israeli intelligence, Netanyahu said the “incriminating” documents, charts, videos and blueprints were shared with the U.S., which “can vouch for its authenticity.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Israeli intelligence source told Ynet that the number of Iranian officials who knew about the existence of the archive — which included documents about Iran’s nuclear activity, known as Project Amad, covering more than a decade and a half — was so small that Tehran was stunned by the Israeli infiltration.
The official said that the Iranians discovered the break-in at an early stage and attempted to retrieve the documents and CDs and were even “on the tail” of the Mossad agents.
Ten days after the Israeli spies infiltrated the warehouse, Iran sent an explosives-laden drone from Syria into Israel in what was possibly a response to the Mossad operation, the source said.
In February, Israel targeted what it said was an Iranian drone facility in Syria in response to the UAV infiltration. Syrian forces succeeded in downing an Israeli F-16 fighter jet.
The warehouse, located in Shorabad, an industrial area south of Tehran, was purposely made to look like an abandoned storage container, the official said. In his presentation Monday, Netanyahu described it as a “dilapidated” and “innocent-looking” building.
According to the official, Israel has never before acquired such an enormous amount of material — half a ton — in a single operation. However, he added that the agents were still unable to take all the documents because “it would’ve been too heavy.” Speaking to the New York Times on Monday, another unnamed official said operatives broke into the warehouse and smuggled the trove back to Israel that same night.
The official said a massive team of experts from both the Mossad and the Military Intelligence Directorate is tasked with analyzing the documents, which were in Farsi, and there is still a ways to go until the work is completed.
“This archive gives us a lot of new details about the weapons program, and serves as proof on an entirely different level to the existence of such a weapons program, its characteristics and Iranian planning,” he said.
The official noted that the “truly incriminating photographs could not really be presented to the public, because they show how a nuclear weapon is built. There is equipment Iran should not have and they will have to provide explanations for this.”
The senior intelligence official also denounced claims made by former Mossad deputy chief Ram Ben Barak that exposing the materials was a major breach of security.
“They know exactly what we took,” a senior diplomatic official confirmed. “There’s no exposure and no damage. The entire presentation was coordinated with the head of the Mossad.”
Since the arrival of the archive in Israel, senior officials have been holding discussions about what to do with it. Some advocated leaking it to foreign media — as Israel has done in the past — to ensure it goes public without being directly linked to Israel. Eventually, however, the decision was made to have Netanyahu publicly reveal the existence of the archive, with intelligence officials insisting this does not endanger sources or operational methods.