(JTA) — In 2016, Israel’s Mossad intelligence service broke into the anonymous Tehran building that housed Iran’s secret nuclear files and smuggled half a ton of documents and compact discs back to Israel the same night.
The New York Times in a May 1 article posted on its website, quoted a senior Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity as saying that the Mossad discovered the warehouse in February 2016 and since then kept the building under surveillance.
Mossad operatives broke into the building in January, took the original documents and returned to Israel the same night, the official told The Times.
In his nationally televised broadcast, first in English, on May 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the hiding place of the documents.
“This is where they kept the atomic archives. Right here. Few Iranians knew where it was, very few, and also a few Israelis,” the Israeli leader said. “Now, from the outside, this was an innocent looking compound. It looks like a dilapidated warehouse. But from the inside, it contained Iran’s secret atomic archives locked in massive files,” he said.
On stage with Netanyahu were shelves of binders and a moveable wall of CDs.
“And here’s what we got. Fifty-five thousand pages. Another 55,000 files on 183 CDs. Everything you’re about to see is an exact copy of the original Iranian material,” he said, adding: “You may want to know where are the originals? Well, I can say they’re now in a very safe place.”
The unnamed official told the newspaper that President Donald Trump was told of the operation to retrieve the documents by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen when he visited Washington, D.C., in January.
The material was not unveiled until now because the documents had to be analyzed and translated from Persian, the official said.
Netanyahu said during his presentation that the information had been shared with the United States and that “the United States can vouch for its authenticity.”
Trump is set to decide by the middle of next month whether the U.S. will remain in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known.
In a meeting with reporters in the White House Rose Garden shortly after Netanyahu’s presentation, Trump said that the disclosure “showed that I was 100 percent right” in criticizing the Iran nuclear deal.
“That is just not an acceptable situation,” he also said.
Trump declined to say what he would decide on the Iran nuclear deal.
“We’ll see what happens. I’m not telling you what I’m doing, but a lot of people think they know,” he said. “On or before the 12th, we’ll make a decision. That doesn’t mean we won’t negotiate a real agreement.
In a statement following Netanyahu’s presentation, the U.S. press secretary said “The United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged that the United States has known “for a while” about Israel’s cache of stolen documents concerning the Iranian nuclear program.
Pompeo told reporters on the airplane traveling from Jordan to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., that he had been aware of the existence of the documents, and that he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had discussed them when they met in Tel Aviv on April 30.
“I know there are people talking about these documents not being authentic,” he said. “I can confirm for you that these documents are real; they’re authentic.”
Pompeo said the files “spell out the scope and scale of the program that they undertook there, and I think makes – I think makes very clear that, at the very least, the Iranians have continued to lie to their own people. So while you say everyone knew, the Iranians have consistently taken the position that they’ve never had a program like this. This will – this will belie any notion that there wasn’t a program like this.”
Asked if there was there anything in there that suggests an actual violation of the 2016 agreement, the secretary of state said the administration would “leave that to lawyers.”
Pompeo, who was confirmed last week, said he has “had lots of conversations with the Europeans” about the Iranians.
“We know what it is they’re hoping to achieve. We share the same end goal to keep the Iranians from ever having a nuclear weapon,” he said. “I am confident that we will continue to have good relations with our European partners should the president choose to pull out of this. This will be one issue among many of the important, critical issues that we all work on together.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Bloomberg that the announcement of Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon was “not groundbreaking.”
“We knew of the possible military dimensions of their program up until 2003. The Obama administration, when they were negotiating the JCPOA, chose not to pursue that issue,” said Corker, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“But we’ve all known. It’s like the biggest known secret out there relative to their previous activities. So this is really not groundbreaking. We’ve known of this for some time.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif compared Netanyahu and his announcement to the “boy who cried wolf.”
“The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again. Undeterred by cartoon fiasco at UNGA,” Zarif tweeted Monday following Netanyahu’s presentation, referring to the Israeli leader’s 2012 presentation before the United Nations General Assembly showing a cartoon bomb. “You can only fool some of the people so many times.”
Social media poked fun at Netanyahu, with one-person photoshopping the Iranian files that Netanyahu was pointing to in sweeping gestures to a weather map and noting that “Jews control the weather.” Another showed Netanyahu’s presentation as a set for the Home Shopping Network.