Iran and Israel’s shadow war has lasted years: Key moments before the attack

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In the last two decades, Iran has accused Israel of tampering with its nuclear program.

In 2010, cyberanalysts discovered a computer virus, named Stuxnet, that had successfully infiltrated Iran’s nuclear program, among other systems. It later emerged that the cyberattack was the work of U.S. and Israeli experts and that, even after software security companies discovered the virus, the joint operation targeting Iranian nuclear infrastructure proceeded under the secret orders of President Barack Obama, who was eager to slow Iran’s apparent progress toward building an atomic bomb without launching a traditional military attack, The Post reported at the time.

Iran’s highly sensitive Natanz nuclear facility has been hit over the years. In 2020, for instance, a massive explosion and fire caused significant damage. Iranian officials suggested that the United States or Israeli operatives were to blame, though neither country acknowledged involvement. In 2021, Iran blamed Israel for an electrical blackout that left some older centrifuges damaged. Israeli media outlets reported at the time that the facility had been targeted by a cyberattack carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, but Israel did not comment.

There have also been several suspicious deaths of scientists. Between 2010 and 2012, four scientists affiliated with Iran’s nuclear program were killed in separate incidents. In one, a physics professor at Tehran University was killed when a bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded as he passed nearby. More Iranian scientists have been killed since and, in many cases, authorities and Iranian media said Israel was responsible. Israel did not comment. On Nov. 27, 2020, a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed in an ambush outside of Tehran. Iranian officials again suggested that Israel was behind the attack.

Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said that while the killings did not fundamentally alter Iran and Israel’s conflictual relationship, the thought that Israel was able to find and execute targeted strikes against people with sensitive knowledge of Iran’s closely guarded nuclear program “made the Iranians panic” and created “higher levels of anxiety within the Iranian establishment and the desire to restore a degree of deterrence.”

In January 2018 — years after Iran signed a deal with the United States and others to stop developing nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting economic sanctions — Israeli secret agents raided a storage facility in Tehran and stole tens of thousands of documents relating to Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli officials used the uncovered information to further their campaign against the 2015 nuclear accord, which Israel views as a threat to its security because it believes the deal was not stringent enough to prevent Iran from one day developing nuclear weapons. The stolen documents contained no proof that Iran had violated the nuclear accord, The Post reported at the time.

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