Tar­get Tehran: How Israel Is Using Sab­o­tage, Cyber­war­fare, Assas­si­na­tion – and Secret Diplo­ma­cy – to Stop a Nuclear Iran and Cre­ate a New Mid­dle East

  • Review
By – November 30, 2023

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.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

Discussion Questions