Israel has ‘proof’ of secret Iran nuclear weapons plans. Could this give Donald Trump ammunition to pull US out of 2015 deal?
Allegation comes at a critical time for a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran just ahead of a May 12 deadline for US President Donald Trump to decide whether to continue to waive sanctions lifted as part of the agreement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address he had new “proof” of an Iranian nuclear weapons plan that could be activated at any time, as the US considers whether to pull out of the atomic accord with Tehran.
But while Netanyahu accused Israel’s main enemy Iran of lying about its nuclear ambitions, he did not provide evidence that it had actively worked to obtain an atomic weapon since the 2015 agreement between Tehran and six world powers.
Iran has always denied it sought a nuclear weapon, insisting its atomic programme was for civilian purposes.
Netanyahu made the comments in an elaborate presentation on Monday that included props, video and slides, broadcast live on television from Tel Aviv.
He said Israel had obtained tens of thousands of files “a few weeks ago in a great intelligence achievement,” saying they had been moved to a secret compound in Tehran in 2017 that looked dilapidated from the outside.
The material about the programme, code-named Project Amad, weighed a half a tonne, he said.
As he spoke, binders that he said held copies of original documents were on shelves behind him, as were cases containing CDs.
“Tonight we’re going to reveal new and conclusive proof of the secret nuclear weapons programme that Iran has been hiding for years from the international community in its secret atomic archive,” Netanyahu said. “We’re going to show you Iran’s secret nuclear files.”
He then laid out what he said was a years-old secret nuclear weapons programme stored away and which could be put into action at any time.
The details have been shared with the United States and will also be given to other countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he said.
On Tuesday, the IAEA said it had “no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009”, citing its assessments from 2015.
After Netanyahu’s statement was announced but before he spoke, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif already dismissed it.
“The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again,” he wrote on Twitter. “You can only fool some of the people so many times.”
Zarif then took to Twitter again to lambast both Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, who has a May 12 deadline to decide on whether to walk away from the nuclear deal.
BREAKING: The boy who can't stop crying wolf is at it again. Undeterred by cartoon fiasco at UNGA. You can only fool some of the people so many times. pic.twitter.com/W7saODfZDK
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 30, 2018
Pres. Trump is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA to “nix” the deal. How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12. But Trump’s impetuousness to celebrate blew the cover. https://t.co/5gxmmZcrF7
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 30, 2018
Trump “is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA to ‘nix’ the (2015 nuclear) deal”, Zarif tweeted.
“How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12,” he added.
On Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi called the accusations that Tehran lied about its nuclear ambitions “worn-out, useless and shameful”.
Netanyahu’s comments came from a “broke and infamous liar who has had nothing to offer except lies and deceits,” Ghasemi said in a statement.
“Netanyahu and the notorious, child-killing Zionist regime must have reached the basic understanding that the people of the world have enough awareness and cognisance,” he added.
Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran deal – something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay in from European allies and other parties.
At the White House, Trump praised Netanyahu’s presentation and said it vindicated the president’s past statements about Iran and the shortcomings of the nuclear deal, adding that recent events have “really shown that I’ve been 100 per cent right”.
Although Trump was hosting Nigeria’s president for a visit during Netanyahu’s speech Monday, he said he watched part of it on television.
“That is just not an acceptable situation,” Trump said.
He declined to say whether he’ll pull out of the deal on May 12 but said that even if he does, “that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t then negotiate a real agreement.”
Most world powers however say the nuclear deal is working as intended for now and is the best way to keep Iran from acquiring the bomb.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany left Washington last week after talks with Trump which failed to secure any promise to keep the deal alive.
The Israeli premier has repeatedly called for the accord – which Iran signed with Britain, France, China, Russia, the United States and Germany – to either be altered or scrapped.
He says the agreement does not prevent Tehran from eventually obtaining nuclear weapons and says the lifting of sanctions has increased Tehran’s ability to finance proxy militants in the Middle East.
Netanyahu also wants to see curbs on Iran’s missile programme.
On Monday, he said the 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 said.
His presentation came after he met visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday and spoke with Trump by phone on Saturday.
Pompeo reiterated during the visit that Trump will withdraw from the nuclear deal “if we can’t fix it”.
Trump and his Middle East allies argue the deal, 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 programme.
Pompeo, a former CIA chief and congressman, also joined Netanyahu in lashing out at Iran on Sunday.
“Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” Pompeo said.
Intelligence experts and diplomats said Netanyahu did not seem to have presented a “smoking gun” showing that Iran had violated the terms of the agreement, although he may have helped make a case on behalf of sceptics in the US administration who want to scrap it.
Rob Malley, a former official in Obama’s administration, said on Twitter that “for those who have followed the Iranian nuclear file, there is nothing new in [Netanyahu’s] presentation”.
“All it does is vindicate need for the nuclear deal. But the Israeli prime minister has an audience of one: Trump. And he’s unfortunately unlikely to reach the same conclusion.”
The allegations ratcheted up already heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. Israel considers Iran to be its biggest threat, citing Tehran’s hostile rhetoric, support for militants and growing influence in the region.
Israel has said it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in neighbouring Syria, where Iran supports President Bashar al-Assad. Overnight Monday, a missile attack in northern Syria killed more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians, a war monitoring group and an Iranian news agency said.
There was no official confirmation of the death toll or the target. But Israel was widely suspected of being behind the attack.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters, The Washington Post