Picture this movie plot: intelligence agents infiltrate a country and take off with classified files, revealing the criminal activities carried out under that country’s law-abiding façade. In this script, there are no secret weapons, no superheroes, no other-worldly creatures. Instead, there is careful planning, attention to detail, creative thinking, and daring — and the story is fact, not fiction.
Target Tehran provides a comprehensive account of how Israel’s decades-old intelligence agency, Mossad, has conducted operations with the purpose of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Those operations came to a head when, in 2018, Mossad agents stole two truckloads of files that disclosed the country’s clear violations of the 2015 nuclear deal it had signed.
Although some details are still classified or not yet released for attribution, the authors, who are investigative reporters, tell this remarkable story as fully as possible. Their narrative reads like a spy novel: it is dramatic and riveting from the start.
The book’s central figure is Yossi Cohen, who served as the director of Mossad from 2016 to 2021. But the agency’s operations against nuclear threats in the region go back to 1981, when Israel, under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Begin said at the time that whenever Israel is threatened with weapons of mass destruction, “every future Israeli prime minister will act, in similar circumstances, in the same way.”
Over the years there have been other Mossad heads, various security and military figures, different prime ministers and government officials, and numerous American presidents and their governments. The key players in Iran and other countries in the region changed as well. While it can’t be confirmed what happened in every instance, it is presumed Israel played a part in some of these changes. All of this contributed to what the authors refer to as “the heist”: the theft of a half ton of Iranian documents and CDs. They also explore topics such as Azerbaijan’s role in the heist; operations during the premiership of Ariel Sharon and his Mossad head, Meir Dagan; the Stuxnet cyber operation; President Barack Obama and the Iran nuclear deal; and the “paradigm change” of the Abraham Accords.
The authors finished writing Target Tehran in April 2023, and they end their account with praise for the achievements of Israel’s “elite spy agency.” One cannot help reading these words with Hamas’s October 7 attack in mind. Notwithstanding Mossad’s successes, the authors may now find themselves investigating what at this stage appears to be a monumental intelligence failure.