Israel is suspected of carrying out a series of leaks implicating Iran in nuclear weapons experiments, in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran and halt its nuclear program, the British Guardian reported on Monday.
The report said that Western diplomats believe the leaks may have backfired, compromising a UN-sanctioned investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities and current aspirations.
The latest leak, published by the Associated Press (AP), purported to be an Iranian diagram showing the physics of a nuclear blast, but scientists quickly pointed out an elementary mistake that cast doubt on its significance and authenticity, indicated the Guardian. An article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists declared: "This diagram does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax."
The leaked diagram raised questions about an investigation being carried out by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors after it emerged that it formed part of a file of intelligence on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons work held by the agency.
The IAEA's publication of a summary of the file in November 2011 helped trigger a new round of punitive EU and U.S. sanctions.
According to the Guardian, Western officials say they have reasons to suspect Israel of being behind the most recent leak and a series of previous disclosures from the IAEA investigation, pointing to Israel's impatience at what it sees as international complacency over Iranian nuclear activity.
The leaks are part of an intensifying shadow war over Iran's atomic program being played out in Vienna, home to the IAEA's headquarters.
The Israeli government did not reply to a request for comment and AP described the source of the latest leak only as "officials from a country critical of Iran's atomic program," said the Guardian.
An "intelligence summary" provided to AP with the graph appeared to go out of its way to implicate two men in nuclear weapons testing who had been targeted for assassination two years ago. One of them, Majid Shahriari, was killed on his way to work in Tehran in November 2010 after a motorcyclist fixed a bomb to the door of his car. The other, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, was wounded in a near identical attack the same day.
A book published earlier this year by veteran Israeli and American writers on intelligence, called Spies Against Armageddon, said the attacks were carried out by an assassination unit known as Kidon, or Bayonet – part of the Mossad.
One western source told the Guardian the "intelligence summary" supplied with the leaked diagram "reads like an attempt to justify the assassinations.”
According to one European diplomat, however, the principal impact of the leak would be to compromise the ongoing IAEA investigation into whether Iran has tried to develop a nuclear weapon at any point.
"This is just one small snapshot of what the IAEA is working on, and part of a much broader collection of data from multiple sources," the diplomat told the Guardian.
"The particular document turns out to have a huge error but the IAEA was aware of it and saw it in the context of everything it has. It paints a convincing case."
There is widespread belief among western governments, Russia, China and most independent experts that evidence is substantial for an Iranian nuclear weapons program until 2003. There is far less consensus on what activities, if any, have been carried out since. The IAEA inquiry has so far not found a "smoking gun.”
Analysts say that the recent leaks may have shown the IAEA's hand, revealing what it knows and does not know, and therefore undermined the position of its inspectors in tense and so far fruitless talks with Iranian officials about the country's past nuclear activities.
The IAEA has accused Iranian authorities of undermining its effort to probe suspected nuclear weapons research at the Parchin facility by carrying out possible clean-up operations.
The head of the UN agency, Yukiya Amano, said last week that despite the clean-up, inspections at the military complex near Tehran would be "very useful".
Amano told the UN General Assembly last month that Iran is not cooperating with its investigation.
In his annual report to the world body, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said talks have intensified over the past year. However, he added, “no concrete results have been achieved” thus far.
The UN atomic agency is supposed to hold its first talks with Iran since August on Thursday.