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Intelligence leaks suggest Israeli secret service believe Iran is not producing nuclear weapons

Newly leaked intelligence from Mossad suggest they knew Israeli claims about nuclear weapon production were false
Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, uses a diagram of a bomb to describe Iran's nuclear programme (AFP)

Israel's secret service had long believed Iran was not making a nuclear weapon, according to a tranch of documents leaked from various spy agencies.

A new joint report produced on Monday by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian shows top secret files - correspondances with the South African intelligence services - suggesting that Mossad, the Israeli security agency, has believed since 2012 that the Islamic Republic of Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons,” according to the leak.

The revelation would seem to undermine claims by other branches of the Israeli state – including the prime minister – that Iran presented a threat to Israelis through its desire to produce nuclear weapons.

The date of the cables is particularly ironic, as it came just a month after a speech made by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly in which he called for a united global response to Iran's threat to develop nuclear weapons – a threat which, at the time, he assured was a very real one.

“For nearly a decade, the international community has tried to stop the Iranian nuclear programme with diplomacy,” he told the assembly in September 2012.

“That hasn't worked.”

Netanyahu has freqently argued that Iran's opposition to Israel is existential, not merely political. Former President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad became notorious internationally for provocative statements that were taken by some to call for the destruction of Israel, as well as promoting holocaust denial.

He also accused Iran of providing material and financial support to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, with an aim towards the destruction of Israel.

“Given this record of Iranian aggression without nuclear weapons, just imagine Iranian aggression with nuclear weapons,” he told the assembly.

“Imagine their long range missiles tipped with nuclear warheads, their terror networks armed with atomic bombs.”

In his speech, he illustrated the “red lines” on the Iranian nuclear threat using a graphic with a bomb and fuse with “1st stage”, “2nd stage” and “Final stage” written showing the levels of uranium enrichment Iran would have reached.

He claimed that by Spring of 2013 Iran would have finished “medium enrichment and move on to the final stage”.

“From there, it's only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb,” he said.

This claim, however, is contradicted by the Mossad leak which suggests that the IR40 reactor at Arak - which they say could produce "military-grade plutonium" - would not be brought online before mid-2014.

The document does however, state that Iran was "working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment, reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time when the instruction is actually given."

Netanyahu also claimed that for two years Israeli intelligence “didn't know” that Iran was building a nuclear reactor.

“Look, no one appreciates our intelligence agencies more than the prime minister of Israel,” he said. “All these leading intelligence agencies are superb, including ours. They've foiled many attacks. They've saved many lives.”

“But they are not foolproof.”

Some have accused Mossad of actively trying to undermine Netanyahu's authority over Iran. The agency have opposed new US sanctions on Iran and former officials have expressed frustration that Netanyahu has been ignoring their calls for temperance.

The nuclear programme

Israel has previously intervened militarily in other regional neighbours to prevent nuclear proliferation. In 1981, Israeli jets destroyed the Osirak reactor near the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, believing that then President Saddam Hussein was seeking to build nuclear weapons, which the then Israeli government described as potentially posing a “mortal danger to the people of Israel”.

They also destroyed a facility at al-Kibar in Syria in 2011, which they claimed was a covert nuclear reactor.

Iran has also frequently accused Israel of engaging in targetted assassinations of nuclear scientists within the Islamic Republic, though this claim could be thrown in to doubt if Israeli intelligence did not believe a nuclear threat existed.

Iran has continuously denied that it has been developing its nuclear programme with an eye to making weapons, claiming it is purely interested in providing self-sufficiency in its energy requirements.

Though documents leaked to the press in 2005 purported to present proof of Iranian intentions towards the building of nuclear weapons, these were later criticised after it was revealed that they had come from the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) and not a Iranian government insider as had been originally thought.

The militant group MEK have been involved in a guerilla fight against the Islamic Republic since its inception and are thought to have established strong links with Mossad.

There are strong indications, though unconfirmed, that Mossad had been responsible for providing the MEK with some or all of the documents and that they were of questionable authenticity.

The MEK had previously been listed as a terrorist organisation by the US state department and EU, but was removed from the latter in 2009 and the former in 2012 after pressure from prominent US politicians.

The group has been blamed for thousands of deaths inside Iran and the allegations of peculiar social requirements placed upon their members – including forced divorces, public airings of hidden sexual fantasies and the idolising of leader Massoud Rajavi – has seen the group frequently labelled a “cult”.

A troubled history

Iran and Israel have had a tumultuous history. Prior to 1979, the two countries had been strong allies, sharing diplomatic and military ties.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979 which overthrew the monarchy of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, documents released from the vaults of the much-hated secret police service, the Organisation of Intelligence and National Security (SAVAK) revealed the role that Mossad had played in training SAVAK agents in the suppression of opponents of the Shah.

Mossad's involvement in the creation of the Shah's security apparatus only added to popular resentment towards Israel in Iran. The revolution's figurehead, and later Supreme leader, labelled Israel the “Little Satan” in contrast with the “Great Satan” of the US and frequently called for the destruction of the "Zionist government of Israel".