Ex-Mossad chief says Netanyahu’s show on Iran had ‘nothing new’
'The Iranians are constantly lying and cheating'

Ex-Mossad chief says Netanyahu’s show on Iran had ‘nothing new’

Danny Yatom, also a former Labor lawmaker, urges US not to leave nuclear deal and fix it instead

Ex-Mossad chief Danny Yatom (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)
Ex-Mossad chief Danny Yatom (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)

A former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency said Wednesday that the documents revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a prime-time televised press conference this week contained no new information about Iran’s atomic program, and that the United States should fix the nuclear accord rather than leave it.

“The nuclear program files do not have a smoking gun, because it smoked a long time ago,” he said.

“This was a fantastic operation by Israeli intelligence, which yielded a lot of material,” Yatom, who ran the spy agency from 1996 to 1998 until his resignation following the botched assassination attempt of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, told Army Radio. “But it is old material that refers to the period of time prior to 2015.”

Yatom was responding to information publicly presented by Netanyahu on Monday, revealing that Israeli spies had smuggled out of Iran some 100,000 archived documents and files detailing Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and research in the years prior to the signing of the deal.

The 2015 agreement signed between Iran and the world powers gave Tehran relief from painful sanctions in return for a scaling back of its nuclear program.

While disputing the novelty of the information smuggled out of Iran, Yatom said the material may be new for many countries and could help to persuade them that “the Iranians are constantly lying and cheating” and that the nuclear deal should therefore be amended.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel he says proves Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Tuesday, Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy Mossad director who currently belongs to the opposition Yesh Atid party, said he was “convinced that an absolute majority of the intelligence and military officials were opposed to this presentation.”

“What was the point, apart from national pride, broadcasting it in such a dramatic way, as if you were unveiling a new and revolutionary telephone to the world?” he asked.

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.

Trump and his Middle East allies, particularly Israel, argue that the agreement forged by then-US president Barack Obama is too weak and needs to be replaced with a more permanent arrangement supplemented by controls on Iran’s missile program. In comments on the deal, Netanyahu has publicly urged Trump to “fix it or nix it.”

Israel’s revelation of the intelligence trove on Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions was met with skepticism by world leaders who support the accord, many of whom noted that there was no actual evidence that the 2015 pact had been violated.

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

The prime minister declared on Monday, and in subsequent interviews, that Iran had lied to the world about its nuclear weapons research, and urged the US to “do the right thing” when deciding whether or not to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear pact.

Yatom said the documents are important since they encompass many different issues related to the program, but added that those issues weren’t relevant to the current reality.

“Today there is a different situation. The prime minister’s show didn’t point to any violation of the agreement between Tehran and world powers,” he said, noting, however, that the Mossad feat was legitimate and a source of great pride.

As for Trump’s deadline for deciding on whether to withdraw from the nuclear deal, Yatom said it would be wrong for the US to exit the agreement.

“There is room to develop it, and without a deal there won’t be,” he cautioned. “The whole issue of missiles needs to be added to the deal, so the inspectors can enter much deeper into the depths of the program and not go easy on the Iranians.”

FILE – In this Aug. 21, 2010 file photo, an Iranian security officer directs media at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, with the reactor building seen in the background, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

A former lawmaker for the Labor party, the historical rival of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, Yatom has not shied away from public criticism of the prime minister, saying in a March interview that Israel was on a “downward spiral” and that Netanyahu should resign in light of the corruption allegations against him.

After a 30-year career in the IDF, peaking as the head of the Central Command, he served as military secretary, first under prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then, when Rabin was murdered, under Shimon Peres.

He was chief of staff for prime minister Ehud Barak in 1999-2001, and went on to serve as a Knesset member for Labor from 2003 to 2008.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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