Target Tehran: How Israel Is Using Sabotage, Cyberwarfare, Assassination — and Secret Diplomacy — to Stop a Nuclear Iran and Create a New Middle East
- By Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar
- Simon & Schuster
- 368 pp.
- Reviewed by Todd Kushner
- October 30, 2023
A look at Israelis’ efforts to thwart their country’s prime nemesis.
Mossad — Israel’s famed external intelligence agency — has been crucial to Jerusalem’s efforts to thwart Iranian power. Target Tehran focuses on Mossad’s attempts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons using, the authors assert, tactics including sabotage, assassination, secret diplomacy, and clandestine intelligence-gathering. However, the ground covered by the book is much broader than that. Target Tehran also features extensive reporting and commentary on diplomatic and strategic efforts in which Mossad played a more peripheral role. The book is centered around Mossad’s remarkable feat in pilfering Iran’s entire nuclear archive from a warehouse near Tehran in 2018.
This story of Mossad vs. Iran is told by two seasoned Israeli journalists: Yonah Jeremy Bob, senior military and intelligence analyst for the Jerusalem Post, and Ilan Evyatar, former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Report and former news director at the Jerusalem Post. The authors had excellent access to information; much of Target Tehran is based on their interviews with Israeli intelligence and other national security officials, senior members of the Trump and Biden administrations, and a handful of officials from other countries. These interviews were supplemented by numerous secondary sources, including the New York Times, BBC, and Al Jazeera.
Significantly, the authors’ central source was former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. The authors admit that their access and closeness to Cohen challenged their journalistic objectivity, but that they attempted to preserve their credibility and independence via introspection and input from editors, readers, and agents.
The book contains some fascinating descriptions of Israeli intelligence activities. For example, Bob and Evyatar detail how Mossad sabotaged Iran’s nuclear infrastructure by establishing “a network of companies designed to sell defective or infected parts to the Iranians and thereby ‘poison’ its atomic networks.” To advance goals of establishing normal relations with Arab countries, the Israeli government made extensive use of Mossad officials, who were able to travel surreptitiously to Arab capitals in a way no diplomat could. The ultimate result was the 2020 Abraham Accords in which Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize relations.
There is interesting reporting of Israeli discussions of what to do with Iran’s nuclear archive (more than 100,000 paper files and electronic documents) once they’d seized it — Israeli intelligence officials wanted above all to protect secret sources and methods, whereas Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s major objective was to make materials from the heist public in order to wreck the multilateral agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program (the JCPOA) and convince the U.S. to withdraw from it.
Although the book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of Israel’s extraordinary intelligence and diplomatic efforts, it has several flaws. It sometimes veers into veneration — for example, when Cohen is described as “famously good looking and dapper” or when his predecessor Meir Dagan is proclaimed to have a specialty “of separating an Arab from his head.” Indeed, Target Tehran inclines toward overwrought adjectives, as when describing Mossad as “an intrepid and uncompromising organization for which anything is possible.” The authors write not as impartial journalists but as advocates for Israel.
Further, despite its consequential subject matter, Target Tehran also fails to generate much drama. Chapters often seem to play out without a clear storyline. Some chapters feature an extensive litany of events without enough details to create excitement. And the prose frequently seems aimed at an audience less sophisticated than most educated adults — for instance, the book provides an elaborate definition of a cyberweapon, something that is largely self-evident.
Nevertheless, those with a special interest in Israel’s covert actions against Iran’s nuclear program will find the book valuable. But Israeli audiences and those who follow Israeli politics closely will have the most interest in Target Tehran. As the Hamas attacks of October 2023 have demonstrated, it is too early for Israeli intelligence officials to be self-congratulatory. Much of the story of Israel’s efforts against Iran remains to be written.
Todd Kushner is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The views expressed are his alone and do not represent the views of the U.S. government.