A report in the Hebrew-language news site Yediot Ahronot written by investigative reporter Ronen Bergman and published on Friday stated that on a 2008 visit by George W. Bush to Jerusalem, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert played a tape of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the senior Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated by a hit squad outside of Tehran ten days ago, speaking about his efforts to produce “five warheads.”
The recording was made by a source close to Fakhrizadeh who had been recruited by Israeli intelligence. Played as part of an effort to convince the US of the dire threat of an Iranian nuclear program, Olmert requested that the room be emptied of any non-essential people, including Bush’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley, in order to ensure the identity of the source remained a secret.
According to the report in Yediot, Israel had been compiling a dossier on the Iranian scientist for over three decades, indicating his deep involvement in a nuclear weapons program. The recording was considered by Israeli intelligence experts to be the final proof that the Iranian nuclear program was not focused on peace-time goals, as the Iranian government still insists in the public forum.
At the time, Ehud Barak, Olmert’s Minister of Defense, requested the US to supply Israel with weapons that it did not have in its arsenals, such as vertical take-off aircraft and bunker-busting bombs. It was believed that Israel intended to use the weapons to carry out an attack against the Iranian nuclear program.
According to the report, Bush responded to the request by pointing at Barak and saying, “This guy frightens me.”
Bush then reacted to the new information concerning the Iranian nuclear weapons program by saying:
Bush: “US Will Not Act”
“I want you to know the official position of the United States government. The US strongly opposes Israel taking action against the Iranian nuclear program,” Bush said, according to Ehud Barak in the Yediot report. “And in order not to be vague, I will tell you that the United States does not intend to act either as long as I serve as president.”
After this response, Olmert decided to play the tape for the US president the next day in an attempt to convince him of the dire necessity. Before the meeting, Olmert insisted that everyone leave the room except for the president. Headley stated that protocol demanded that as national security adviser, he stay. But Olmert insisted that he leave and Bush assented.
Olmert played the tape which was, of course in Persian, but the Israeli prime minister provided an English transcript.
“I’m going to play you something, but I ask that you not talk about it with anyone, not even with the director of the CIA,” the report quoted Olmert as telling Bush, identifying Fakhrizadeh as the man speaking on the tape.
Iran’s Long History of Nuclear Weapons Development
Olmert described him as the head of the Iranian AMAD program. AMAD is the Iranian program aimed at developing a nuclear weapon that was begun in 1989. The Iranian government claims to have ended the program in 2003. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, was predicated on the truth of this Iranian claim. President Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA but the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, who helped set up the JCPOA, and many of his cabinet nominees have vowed to return the agreement.
The Yediot report cites the recording, quoting Fakhrizadeh, but does not use the word ‘nuclear’. The nuclear scientist discusses his weapons program, complaining that the government is not providing him with sufficient funding.
“They want five warheads,” Fakhrizadehsaid. “But on the other hand, they won’t let me work.”
Though Bush did not relent and sell Israel the requested weaponry, he did agree to full-intelligence cooperation on the Iranian nuclear weapons program and joint operations against it.
Fakhrizadeh was named in 2018 when Prime Minister Netanyahu revealed a trove of secrete documentation taken from a warehouse in Tehran by the Mossad. The documentation was from Iran’s nuclear program.