Jerusalem: Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of continuing to hide and expand its nuclear weapons knowhow after a 2015 agreement with global powers, presenting what the Israeli prime minister claimed was “new and conclusive proof” of violations.
Netanyahu presented a series of slides and photographs of documents which he were drawn from a half-ton cache obtained by Israeli intelligence “a few weeks ago.” The New York Times reported that Mossad had broken into a warehouse in January and smuggled them to Israel the same night. The report did not say how such a large amount of documentation was transported in secret.
However, key documents highlighted by Netanyahu had previously been seen by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as early as 2005 and made public by the agency in 2011.
The IAEA judged that substantial work on nuclear weapons development ceased in 2003, and that there was no evidence of weapons research after 2009. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, the task of investigating Iran’s nuclear past was handed to the IAEA.
In a televised prime-time speech, Netanyahu said Israel had tens of thousands of documents from what he called Iran’s “Atomic Archives”, which he presented as new evidence, and which he said had been shared with the US.
“Iran lied, big time,” he said, speaking from Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv. “Iran is brazenly lying when it said it never had a nuclear weapons programme.”
Netanyahu’s presentation came less than two weeks before Donald Trump is due to decide whether to continue to abide by the 2015 deal by waiving US sanctions on Iran. Asked about the Israeli evidence on Monday, Trump said it proved he was “100% right” about the flaws of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA)
“I’ve been saying it’s happening” Trump said at the White House. “They’re not sitting back idly.”
Asked about his intentions on 12 May, the deadline for the sanctions waivers, the president said: “So we’ll see what happens. I’m not telling anyone what I’m doing.”
Trump added that if he did pull out of the JCPOA it would send the “the right message” to North Korea.
Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said his department first saw the documentation that Netanyahu presented in 2005. The safeguards department that Heinonen ran came to the conclusion that the evidence of weapon design work known as the Amad project was credible, but that substantial work on the project ceased in 2003. Heinonen gave a classified briefing on Amad to the IAEA board in 2008.
After watching Netanyahu’s presentation, Heinonen said: “I just saw a lot of pictures I had seen before.”
“Some of the images that we saw I briefed to the board in closed session in February 2008,” Heinonen said. He added that the IAEA did not see the full archive of Amad documentation, but was given the most important evidence. The IAEA made public some of its evidence on Iran’s past nuclear weapons work in 2011. It found that some research work had continued after 2003, but found no evidence of such research activities after 2009.
Netanyahu had lobbied hard against the 2015 deal that lifted some sanctions on his arch-enemy Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, labelling it from the outset as “a bad mistake of historic proportions”.
He has backed Donald Trump’s threats to walk away from the Barack Obama-era deal, which the US administration has sought to discredit for its limited, 10-year-duration and its failure to address Iran’s long-range missiles programme.
Netanyahu, who is known for theatrical presentations, pulled black sheets from a cabinet filled with folders that he said were copies of 55,000 pages of “incriminating” evidence. He revealed a screen to which close to 200 CDs had been affixed, saying they held videos and photos of clandestine Iranian nuclear research and development.
“Even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons programme for future use,” he said, speaking in English.
Netanyahu did not detail how Israel obtained what he said was a half a tonne of “evidence” from a warehouse in Tehran, or say if the maps, diagrams, powerpoint slides and spreadsheets would be shared with the public. However, he said Israel would forward the cache to the IAEA.
“The Iran deal, the nuclear deal, is based on lies,” he said, adding that he was sure, Trump would “do the right thing” when deciding on whether to pull out of the Iran deal.
Based on the documentation that the IAEA reviewed, its director general, Yukiya Amano said in December 2015: “The agency assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.”
“The agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009,” Amano said. “Nor has the agency found any credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material in connection with the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.”
The JCPOA delegated the task of looking into Iran’s past weapons work to the IAEA, which produced a “final assessment” of the outstanding nuclear issues at the end of 2015, summarising what it knew about Iranian nuclear weapons work.
“It was a political agreement,” Heinonen said. “But what you need to do is go and meet the guys who were involved in this work and see what they are doing now.”
“Without going through it with a fine tooth comb, what Netanyahu is presenting is broadly consistent with what the IAEA has reported,” said James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But Acton added that the main purpose of the presentation was to influence Trump before the 12 May sanctions deadline.
“He had an audience of one so we wait to see what influence it had on that audience of one,” he said.
Netanyahu spoke by phone with Trump this the weekend, according to the White House, which said the two leaders discussed “the Iranian regime’s destabilising activities”, a nod to Tehran’s military reach across the Middle East.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has warned that if the US pulls out of the nuclear deal, Tehran would be “highly unlikely” to remain inside and the consequences “will not be very pleasant for the United States”.
After Netanyahu’s presentation, Zarif described it on Twitter as a “rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA”. He suggested it had been orchestrated to justify Trump’s looming decision to “nix the deal”.