Trump and Netanyahu at the White House on March 5. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefed President Trump two months ago on the capture of the Iranian "nuclear archive," and decided to publicly expose the documents yesterday due to Trump's May 12th deadline on possible U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Between the lines: An Israeli official tells me Israel wanted to publicly release the new intelligence after White House visits from French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel, both of whom tried to convince Trump not to withdraw. "We are facing a major decision by President Trump regarding the nuclear deal. Last week was for the Europeans, and this week is our week," the official said.
- During a meeting at White House on March 5th, Netanyahu presented Trump and his senior cabinet members — Vice President Pence, Secretary of Defense Mattis, then-Secretary of State Tillerson and then-National Security Adviser McMaster — with an initial analysis of the "Nuclear archive," a senior Israeli official tells me.
- Netanyahu spoke to Trump over the phone last Saturday and told him he would publish the intelligence later in the week.
- A day later he met in Tel-Aviv with Secretary of State Pompeo and gave him a similar update. An Israeli official said the timing of the publication was coordinated with the White House.
How the documents were seized
The Israeli Mossad discovered the existence of an Iranian "Nuclear archive" in February 2016, a short time after the nuclear deal started being implemented.
- Israeli officials say the Mossad received intelligence that showed the Iranians were trying to hide all documents concerning the military dimensions of their nuclear program.
- The official said that in a highly secret operation known to a handful of Iranian officials, the Iranians transferred tens of thousands of documents and CD's from several different sites around the country to a civilian warehouse in Tehran. The Israeli official said the Iranians did all that because they were afraid IAEA inspectors would find the documents.
- The Mossad put the warehouse under surveillance and started preparing for a possible operation to seize the documents. According to Israeli officials, more than 100 Mossad spies worked on this operation and, in January 2018, it was implemented.
- A senior Israeli intelligence official said the Mossad managed to put its hands on most of the documents in the warehouse. "We didn’t take everything because it was too heavy", he said.
Coordination with the U.S.
- An Israeli official said the CIA and the White House knew about the Israeli efforts to capture the "Iranian nuclear archive," and Israel briefed the U.S. immediately after the successful operation.
- At the same time Netanyahu was briefing Trump and his top officials, the Mossad gave the CIA copies of all the 100,000 documents it obtained.
- At the beginning of February, the Mossad started translating and analyzing the documents, most of were written in Persian. A special team with 50 analysts was formed in the Mossad and, according to an Israeli official, a separate team is working in the CIA. Both intelligence agencies still haven’t finished analyzing the documents.
The Israeli official said: "The documents will a very strong proof that there was a military nuclear program in Iran. Such proof that the Iranians will not be able to deny."