Israel is involved in a covert war of sabotage inside Iran in an effort to delay Tehran's attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Quoting intelligence experts and an unnamed former CIA agent, the newspaper said Israel's "decapitation" strategy had targeted members of Iran's atomic program, hoping to set back the country's nuclear ambitions without resorting to war.
The program has taken on extra emphasis with the election of President Barack Obama, who has adopted a more diplomatic line with Iran, quietening former Bush administration talk of a possible military strike against Iran to hit its nuclear assets.
The goal is to delay
"Disruption is designed to slow progress on the program, done in such a way they don't realize what's happening," the paper quoted a former CIA operative as saying.
"The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other solution or approach. We certainly don't want the current Iranian government to have those weapons. It's a good policy, short of taking them out militarily, which probably carries unacceptable risks."
Other recent deaths of key figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli "hits", aimed at depriving Tehran of important technical required for its disputed program, according to Western intelligence analysts.
The Israeli strategy
Asked about the newspaper report, Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told Reuters: "It is not our practice to comment publicly about these sorts of allegations, not in this situation, not in any situation."
As evidence of Israel's reported strategy, Iran watchers have pointed to events such as the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a nuclear scientist at the Isfahan uranium plant who died at home from apparent gas poisoning in 2007. Rumors had it that he was assassinated by Mossad.
But Israel’s covert operations in Iran cover a range of activities, according to the Telegraph. The former CIA operative revealed to the paper how Israeli and U.S. intelligence co-operated with European companies working in Iran to obtain photographs and other confidential material about Iranian nuclear and missile sites.
Israel has allegedly also used front companies to infiltrate the Iranian purchasing network that the government uses to circumvent United Nations sanctions and obtain so-called "dual use" items such as metals, valves, electronics and machinery for its disputed nuclear program.
Meir Javendafar, an Iran expert at Meepas, a Middle East analysis group, said there were also reports Iran was being sold faulty equipment for its nuclear program on international markets, and that there were attempts to disrupt the electricity supply to Natanz, a uranium enrichment facility in central Iran.
"I think there is sabotage going on, it's a logical move and it makes sense in the game that is part of the overall struggle to disrupt Iran's nuclear ambitions," he told Reuters in London.
"In the absence of a diplomatic solution to resolve this problem, and the infeasibility of war for now, this is the best next solution," he said.
However, he said there were also indications that several more countries other than Israel were involved in attempting to infiltrate Iran to disrupt its nuclear program, and suggested much of the reported clandestine activity was more part of a psychological war than an actual one of sabotage.
"Numerous intelligence agencies are trying their best to do this. Not just Israel but the Americans and many European spy agencies -- there are even reports that neutrals such as Holland have been involved," he said.
"If it's true, then it's putting pressure on the Iranian program technically. If it's not true, then it's all just part of the psychological conflict."
"Since none of this is confirmed, we can't be sure. But even if there's no truth to it, it's part of what is a massive psychological war against Iran's nuclear program. That is a certainty. That is clear."