Yossi Cohen’s comments, speaking to Israel’s Channel 12 investigative show “Uvda” in a segment broadcast Thursday night, offered an extraordinary report by the head of the typically secretive agency in what appears to be the latest days of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He also gave a clear warning to other scientists in Iran’s nuclear program that they too could become assassination targets even as diplomats in Vienna try to negotiate terms to try to salvage their atomic deal with world powers.
“If the scientist is willing to change careers and he won’t hurt us anymore, then yes, sometimes we offer them” a way out, Cohen said.
Among the major attacks targeting Iran, none have gone deeper than two explosions in the past year at its Natanz nuclear facility. There, the centrifuges enrich the uranium from an underground room designed to protect them from air attacks.
In July 2020, a mysterious explosion ripped apart Natanz’s advanced centrifuge assembly, which Iran later blamed on Israel. Then, in April of this year, another explosion destroyed one of its underground enrichment rooms.
When talking about Natanz, the interviewer asked Cohen where he would take them if they could travel there, he said “to the basement” where “the centrifuges used to spin.”
“It doesn’t look like it used to be seen,” he added.
Cohen did not directly claim the attacks, but his specificity offered the closest recognition yet of an Israeli hand in the attacks. The interviewer, journalist Ilan Dayan, apparently also provided a detailed description in a voice-over of how Israel introduced the explosives into Natanz’s underground corridors.
“The man who was responsible for these explosions, it is clear, made sure to supply the Iranians with the marble base on which the centrifuges are placed,” Dayan said. “As they set up this base inside the Natanz facility, they have no idea that it already includes a huge amount of explosives.”
They also discussed the November assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist who started Tehran’s military nuclear program decades ago. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe that Iran abandoned its organized effort to search for a nuclear weapon in 2003. Iran has long maintained that its program is peaceful.
While Cohen on camera does not claim the murder, Dayan in the segment described Cohen as “personally signed on the entire campaign.” Dayan also described how a remotely operated machine gun attached to a pickup truck killed Fakhrizadeh and then self-destructively.
Cohen described an Israeli effort to dissuade Iranian scientists from participating in the program, that he had seen some abandon their work after being warned, even indirectly, by Israel. When asked by the interviewer if the scientists understood the implications if they didn’t stop, Cohen said, “Come to your friends.”
They also spoke about Israel’s operation that seized archival documents from Iran’s military nuclear program. Dayan said that 20 agents, none Israeli, seized material from 32 safes, then scanned and transmitted a large part of the documents. Cohen confirmed that the Mossad received most of the material before it was physically removed from Iran.
Cohen defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to make the results of the operation public, going against a long-standing practice of secrecy involving Mossad activities.
“It was important for us that the world saw this, but this should also resonate with the Iranian leaders, to tell them, ‘Dear friends: One, you have been infiltrated. Two, see you … Three, the era of … lies is over, ‘”Cohen said.
The media in Israel operate under a decades-long policy that requires journalists to clarify stories involving security issues through milita