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Inside a secret bomb-proof building in a Tel Aviv suburb, which Google Earth does not include on its website, some of the occupants last week exchanged high-fives at their work stations. According to insiders, several sent each other the same message: The Chief’s Last Hit.
That “chief” was Meir Dagan, the outgoing head of Mossad. On his first day in office eight years ago, Mr Dagan had stood on a table in the organisation’s canteen and promised to support any operation against any of Israel’s enemies, with every means he had — legal or illegal. He could allow his field agents to use prescribed nerve toxins, dumdum bullets and methods of killing that even the Russian or Chinese secret services would not use.
Earlier this month, “the chief” and a small team of specialists — analysts, weapons experts and psychologists – met in a conference room adjoining his office. With them was a brigadier-general, the head of the kidon. Named after the Hebrew word for bayonet, the kidon is a unit with 38 elite assassins at its disposal, including five women. Operating out of a military base in the Negev Desert, all are in their twenties, and trained both as expert killers and as expert linguists: a number are fluent in Persian.
Last Monday, a thousand miles further east in the Iranian capital, Tehran, it appears that the kidon put both of those skills into practice, killing a top nuclear scientist and critically injuring a second as they drove through the rush-hour traffic. Both were key figures in the Iranian nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is for civilian use only, but which Mossad has long perceived as the ultimate expression of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map”.
In one car was 45-year-old Majid Shahriyari, Iran’s leading expert in designing nuclear switches, a key part in the construction of nuclear weapons. Ali Alker Saler, an Iranian nuclear official, has described Shahriyari’s work as “only handling the big projects”. The week before he was assassinated, the nuclear scientist had returned from North Korea. Intelligence sources in Seoul have suggested that Mr Shahriyari had gone to Pyongyang to discuss a co-production deal over nuclear centrifuges.