To contradict, according to the Oxford English Dictionary online, is to “deny the truth of (a statement) by asserting the opposite.”
Used in a sentence, it might look like this: “Leaked cables show Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted by Mossad” – which is fine in terms of usage, at least in the condensed prose of headlines, but only partially supported by the evidence provided by The Guardian and Al-Jazeera.
The two media outlets on Monday published a “secret” memo from the Mossad to its South African counterpart, the State Security Agency. The Guardian underscored this fragment of a sentence: “Iran at this time is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons…” and claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “inflammatory rhetoric” and “alarmist tone” in describing the threat emanating from Tehran were directly at odds with the Mossad’s allegedly far more sanguine assessment.
Here’s the passage from Netanyahu’s 2012 UN General Assembly address that The Guardian highlighted: “By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move[d] on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
Note: enough uranium, not a nuclear weapon.
The Mossad, which intelligence historian and reporter Yossi Melman aptly noted on twitter is not on close terms with its South African counterpart, and therefore does not share with it sensitive information, does not substantively contradict Netanyahu’s statement.
It wrote that “Iran continues to improve its enrichment abilities and is even liable to advance them significantly” once the then-new centrifuges were put into service. It assessed that Iran is “making efforts” to put the IR40 reactor in Arak into operation, which is “expected to produce enough military-grade plutonium for one bomb per year” – although it would need a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in order to be converted to fuel for weapons.
“In the area of nuclear of weapons,” the report stated, “there is continued R&D activity at SPND, under the Iranian Defense Ministry, which we understand is intended for accumulating know-how and creating an organizational framework [which] it will be able to make use of to produce nuclear fuel, when the order is given.”
And finally, the full passage from which the quote was cherry picked: “Bottom line: Though Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons, it is working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment, reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given.”
In other words, Netanyahu and the Mossad agree that Iran is in pursuit of a bomb and is continually closing in on that objective; that it has advanced on two tracks, uranium and plutonium; and that it has amassed enough five-percent-enriched uranium for several bombs, some of which has been further enriched to 20%. The only disunity between the two assessments regards the rate of enrichment.
Netanyahu said that by the summer of 2013 Iran will have finished the 20% enrichment stage and moved on to the final stage; the Mossad memo, written several weeks after the prime minister’s September 2012 address, says that Iran “does not appear to be ready to enrich it” – its 20% stockpile – “to higher levels.”
In other words, the discrepancy does not revolve around the fundamental issue of whether Iran is, in fact, “performing the activity necessary to produce weapons,” as stated, but rather around the speed with which such action is being taken.
Interestingly, there may well be daylight, and perhaps even an outright contradiction, between the Mossad’s official assessment of the implications of the rise of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency and that of Netanyahu. The latter, it would seem, is wary of the significance of the rise of the more Western-oriented political leadership, feeling it is primarily a ruse by Iran’s Supreme Leader, constructed in order to lure — with Rouhani’s smile and Javad Zarif’s Berkeley- and University of Denver-acquired English — the West into a deal that cements Iran’s place, eventually, among the world’s nuclear powers.
The Military Intelligence Directorate, and perhaps the Mossad, too, partially rejected Netanyahu’s assertion that Rouhani, like his predecessors, was simply a “loyal servant of the regime.” In October 2013, Barak Ravid of Haaretz reported that the then commander of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, submitted an assessment to Netanyahu in which he asserted that, while there has been no change in Iran’s nuclear program, Rouhani’s victory ushered in changes that are “significant” and even “strategic.”
This sort of assessment, though, is truly confidential in nature and there was no word of it in the newly leaked cables.