Michael Daventry gives the inside scoop on the Intelligence coup of the century.
The spectacle of Benjamin Netanyahu barely able to contain his excitement as he paced back and forth around the stage, pointing out his props and slides, was remarkable enough.
But that was as nothing compared with what was truly remarkable â€” an intelligence coup that is already regarded as legendary.
The Israeli prime minister had just uncovered â€” literally, by pulling away dust sheets to reveal shelves of filing â€” the evidence that showed Iran had for years been engaged on a secret nuclear programme.
â€œIran lied, big time,â€ Mr Netanyahu told a hastily-assembled room of journalists on Monday. â€œA few weeks ago, in a great intelligence achievement, Israel obtained half a ton of materialâ€.
His presentation was closely coordinated with the United States, coming just days before President Trump decides whether to abandon the international deal that was said by its supporters to contain Iranâ€™s nuclear ambitions.
Mr Netanyahuâ€™s words were dramatic. But they barely came close to conveying the drama of the Mossadâ€™s unprecedented operation.
The cache â€” containing tens of thousands of pages, many of them handwritten â€” was snatched by Mossad agents in a single night, from a ramshackle warehouse in a suburb south of Tehran, the Iranian capital. Sources say the building had been under constant surveillance by Israeli intelligence from the moment it was first discovered in February 2016 until the decision to act was taken.
That moment came one night in January this year.
This was not a data transfer of the kind that has made the Mission Impossible movies so thrilling. The documents were not copied onto a portable hard drive, nor transferred electronically back to Israel.
Every file and CD â€” weighing a collective half a ton â€” was transported physically in a single night.
And not one of Mossadâ€™s â€œhuman assetsâ€ â€” Israeli agents and Iranian informants â€” was harmed in the operation, intelligence minister Yisrael Katz told Israeli radio on Tuesday.
It is no exaggeration to say that all of this happened under the Iranian governmentâ€™s nose; Iranâ€™s foreign ministry building was so close to the warehouse that the Mossad agents could have driven to it in the centre of Tehran in barely half an hour.
â€œThis was a highly complex operation, over a long period of time, in a deeply hostile environment,â€ said James Sorene, chief executive of the Bicom think-tank.
â€œTo remove so much physical material in such circumstances is nothing short of remarkable.
â€œWhen you consider it alongside Israelâ€™s apparent ability to identify Iranian arms shipments to Syria as they leave Tehran, you can only conclude that the Iranian regime is severely compromised by the brilliance of Israeli intelligence.â€