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Netanyahu’s Iran nuke claims fail to convince deal proponents

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran’s nuclear program at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Monday. AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran’s nuclear program at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Monday. AFP

Netanyahu’s Iran nuke claims fail to convince deal proponents

Israel began sharing an intelligence trove on Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions on Tuesday, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced accusations his televised unveiling of it lacked evidence a 2015 accord had been violated.

The IAEA, the United Nations atomic watchdog, said it would evaluate any new relevant information, but cited its assessment from three years ago that it had no “credible indications” of an Iranian nuclear weapons pursuit after 2009.

Netanyahu’s elaborate presentation live on television Monday night came ahead of a crucial decision by US President Donald Trump by May 12 on whether to withdraw from the nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran.

The Israeli premier said tens of thousands of documents recently recovered by intelligence operatives in Tehran proved his country’s main enemy Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program it could put into action at any time.

But the presentation that included props, video and slides immediately led to accusations from some that the White House and Netanyahu coordinated it as Trump considers whether to pull out of the nuclear deal he has harshly criticised.

Some analysts and proponents of the nuclear agreement also said Netanyahu had presented previously known details and failed to produce evidence that showed Iran was not abiding by the accord.

“I have not seen from Prime Minister Netanyahu arguments for the moment on non-compliance, meaning violation by Iran of its nuclear commitments under the deal,” European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said.

“And again, the deal was put in place exactly because there was no trust between the parties, otherwise we would not have required a nuclear deal to be put in place.”

France’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday Netanyahu’s claims reinforced the importance of the nuclear deal.

‘Infamous liar’

Iran lashed out at Netanyahu, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on Tuesday calling him an “infamous liar.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said immediately after the presentation that Netanyahu was “the boy who cries wolf.”

Trump however welcomed Netanyahu’s presentation, as did his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with the Israeli leader on Sunday in Tel Aviv.

The White House caused some confusion with its statement on the Israeli trove, at first saying it showed Iran “has” a secret nuclear weapons program before later changing it to “had”.

“These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known: Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” the statement said.

“The Iranian regime has shown it will use destructive weapons against its neighbours and others. Iran must never have nuclear weapons.”

Trump and his Middle East allies, particularly Israel, argue that the agreement approved by Barack Obama was too weak and needs to be replaced with a more permanent arrangement and supplemented by controls on Iran’s missile program.

The Israeli premier has repeatedly called for the accord – which Iran signed with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – to either be altered or scrapped.

In Monday night’s presentation, Netanyahu accused Iran of lying about its nuclear ambitions, saying Israel had recently obtained tens of thousands of files in a “great intelligence achievement”.

Iran has always denied it sought a nuclear weapon, insisting its atomic program was for civilian purposes.

Netanyahu said the files had been moved to a secret compound in Tehran in 2017 that looked dilapidated from the outside.

Half a tonne

The material obtained weighed a half a tonne, he said, speaking in English in the staged presentation in front of a bookcase laden with binders he said held copies of original documents and cases of CDs.

He detailed an alleged program – “Project Amad” – that he said Iran was forced to shelve in 2003, but kept ready to put into action at any time while improving its “know-how”.

He alleged the 2015 nuclear deal was “based on Iranian lies and Iranian deception”.

“Even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons know-how for future use,” Netanyahu added.

Pompeo, until last week director of the CIA, called the intelligence trove authentic and said much of it was new to US experts.

But others argued it failed to show the nuclear accord was a “terrible deal”, as Netanyahu called it, with some saying his presentation in fact furthered the case for the agreement.

“The information in the documents Netanyahu revealed is not new,” Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel under Obama, said on Twitter, echoing the reactions of many other proponents of the deal.

But he added that Netanyahu’s presentation will be “useful to Trump when he announces he is leaving the deal by May 12. I believe he has already made that decision. This presentation, coordinated with his team, will be cited as evidence to justify it.”

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