Israeli intelligence must work to disrupt Iranian
influence and its natural advantages in Iraq that could endanger Israeli security and Western interests, former Mossad chief Danny Yatom told The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday.Reflecting over Monday’s reports in The Intercept
and The New York Times
regarding hundreds of newly leaked Iranian documents that offered a detailed portrait of how aggressively and successfully Tehran
has penetrated Baghdad, Yatom said that the challenge was considerable, but that Israel could rise to the moment.“Iran has a big advantage,” the former Mossad chief said. “There are many Iranians in Iraq,” highlighting that this home-field advantage makes it much easier “to build large facilities from which they can fire missiles” on Israel.Yatom noted that both Israeli intelligence and the country’s aerial power might be in play, with Israel already having suspecting Iran-loyal militias that were building new capacities to potentially attack Israel from within Iraq.“Iran wants to influence Iraq’s prime minister who often acts as if he is acting for them,” Yatom explained. “He is Shi’ite. Also, the prime minister before him was Shi’ite, but the newest one seems to lean even more toward” the Islamic Republic.Noting that the current Iraqi prime minister “is not stopping Iran from sending militias into Iraq or building facilities there,” Yatom said that another issue raised by the report was the enhanced opportunity Iran has in Iraq to try to turn CIA, US State Department and other Western officials to start working for them.“Iran is exploiting all of its options, not just in Iraq itself,” but using its penetration of Iraq to “recruit spies who will spy on Israel, the US and NATO states.”Tehran’s goal continues to be using Iraqi territory “to train, to prepare attacks, to fire rockets that can reach Israel, and to spread out” its capabilities for attacking Israel and adversaries like the Saudis to as many places as possible, including Yemen, “so that it is harder for Israel, the US” and others to manage.Despite all of the freedom that Iraq is giving Iran to operate in its territory and the potential cover that this gives the Islamic Republic, Yatom said that he did not think Iraq itself “has any interest in clashing with Israel directly. It is enough to give Iran lots of freedom.”Yatom lamented that “until the US withdrew from Iraq, US influence was strong enough that Iran did very little there besides work with Shi’ite groups like that of Muqtada al-Sadr,” which, though problematic, was not nearly as threatening to Israel and the West as current groups directly controlled by Iran.However, Yatom was still confident that Israeli intelligence has the capacity to penetrate Iraq to perform surveillance regarding Iranian forces and militias. “Israel always needs an intelligence presence in every place that endangers us and any place where there are Iranians,” he said, adding that although there were always challenges, it was easier to collect intelligence in Iraq than in Iran.This was a strong statement given that in January 2018, dozens of Mossad agents penetrated the heart of Tehran to make off with the Iranian’s secret nuclear files.The Iranian intelligence documents that were revealed on Monday went into great detail about their work, especially regarding al-Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani, to embed themselves into every area of Iraqi affairs.Documents from the leaked cables detail years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, buy-off Iraqi agents working for the US to switch sides, and infiltrate Iraq’s political, economic, and religious life. Mainly, the documents portray Iran as broadly outplaying the US within the Iraqi arena, especially when the CIA started to cut back its investment in Iraq.One Iraqi nicknamed in the cables as “Donnie Brasco” turned to Iran for protection when the CIA started cutting many of its Iraqi agents loose.He promised to tell Iran everything he knew about American intelligence gathering in Iraq – it was all for sale.Monday’s report said that the documents indicate that he revealed “the locations of CIA safe houses; the names of hotels where CIA operatives met with agents; details of his weapons and surveillance training; and the names of other Iraqis working as spies for the Americans.”Yatom made it clear that unlike the US, Israel would need to play the same longer-term game that the Iranians are playing, without dropping out of the game prematurely.Some of the Iranian intelligence cables describe real-life espionage capers in dark alleyways and shopping malls, or under the cover of a hunting excursion or a birthday party.These documents describe informants lurking at the Baghdad airport, copiously photographing American soldiers and performing surveillance of coalition military flights.The archive even contains expense reports from Iraq’s intelligence ministry going deep into minutia, like €87.50 spent on gifts for a Kurdish commander.