NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s revelation at the UN on Thursday of a previously unknown Iranian nuclear site has caused “growing pressure inside Iran,” a senior Israeli official said over the weekend.
“They’re wondering how to deal with this facility, how to evacuate it, how to cover it up,” the official said. “There is no doubt it is a very important site for them; they’re seeking to conceal it and stall in any way possible.”
According to the official, the 15 kilograms of radioactive material that Netanyahu said was removed from the facility and dispersed around Tehran was taken away at the beginning of August.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, told Israeli reporters in a briefing Friday that it was past time for the IAEA to act, and that Iran had been exposed “as deceiving and cheating the international community.” He also said that Iran was aiming to break out to a nuclear arsenal when it deems the time ripe: “There’ll be a crisis somewhere or other, and they’ll [take advantage of the distraction] to break out to a nuclear arsenal,” he warned. “That’s the Iranian plan.”
In his address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, revealing the “secret atomic warehouse,” Netanyahu said “[Global] intelligence services and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have known about this for six weeks” and failed to act. The warehouse allegedly contained nuclear materials that Iran is not allowed to hold without declaring them to the IAEA.
Netanyahu, in his speech, claimed the warehouse was used for “storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret weapons program,” which was quickly being moved to other parts of the city.
The site may contain as much as 300 tons of nuclear-related equipment and material in 15 shipping containers, he added.
The US on Friday asked the IAEA to investigate Netanyahu’s new allegations, although Reuters also quoted a US official as saying the prime minister’s information was misleading, and that the site contained documentation and not nuclear materials.
The Israeli official rejected this on Friday, saying “It’s not just documents. There are other things there,” and added: “Did he check it? First of all, let them check.” He noted that it seemed “very important for Iran to hide it, to disperse things across Tehran.”
The official acknowledged that Israel did not have information on everything contained within the site, and said this was why the IAEA should “go and check.”
Asked if the existence of the secret warehouse and its contents definitely violated the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Israeli official replied: “First of all, let them check… Why did they remove 15 kilograms of radioactive material? That’s a question that needs to be looked into.
“We know there’s radioactive material there. They distributed that radioactive material all around Tehran. Those 15 kilograms are a fact. Why did they go around dispersing it? What happened? They need to check.”
Iranians on Friday published selfies on social media taken outside the facility, and mocked Netanyahu’s claim that it was a secret nuclear facility. The official said “The fact that you have young Iranians taking selfies there is unbelievable.”
The senior official scoffed at the notion that Netanyahu had exposed sensitive intelligence material. “That’s absurd. We had discussions about this, what to reveal and what not to, and it was decided to reveal it at this point.”
Briefing Israeli reporters traveling with him in the US, Netanyahu himself on Friday said it was “time for [the IAEA] to act.” As to whether it would, he said: “They may act and they may not act, but one thing is certain — Iran has been exposed as deceiving and cheating the international community. That’s been revealed and that’s the main purpose. Anything else is a bonus.”
Netanyahu once again lambasted the 2015 nuclear deal, saying Iran “immediately” used funds freed up by the accord to bolster its war machine. “It gave them hundreds of millions of dollars in direct released funds, in credit and in the entry of investors” and Iran had since seen “a 40 percent increase in its defense budget.”
Said Netanyahu Friday, in a bitter denunciation of the accord: “The essence of the 2015 nuclear deal was that, in that in return for not enriching uranium for a single bomb, Iran in a few years will get the right to enrich for hundreds of bombs. Iran has already announced that it will produce 200,000 centrifuges, some of them 20 times faster than the current generation.”
Iran, he said, has “mountains of yellowcake” uranium concentrate. “They have their archived information [on bomb-making] in their secret atomic archive. They can push not for one bomb, but for hundreds of bombs simultaneously.”
“There’ll be a crisis somewhere or other, and they’ll [take advantage of the distraction] to break out to a nuclear arsenal,” he warned. “That’s the Iranian plan. And that’s what the agreement gave them.
“It also gave them hundreds of millions of dollars — directly released funds,” he noted. “They put that money directly into their war machine; there’s been a 40% increase in their defense budget.
The Iranians, he said, “were also obligated [under the deal] to come clean on all their [nuclear] activities. The 15 kilograms [of radioactive material] is further prove [of their failure to do so].”
The newly revealed warehouse, said Netanyahu, did not merely contain documents, as some US officials have charged. “There are other things too. But they key fact is that they hid it.”
On Friday an unnamed official told Channel 10 news that the facility was uncovered by the Mossad spy agency a few months ago, and had since been kept under surveillance.
When the IAEA failed to act, the Israeli government apparently agonized over what to do with the information, and decided after discussions in the Prime Minister’s Office that Netanyahu would reveal it in his annual speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday in an attempt to goad the IAEA into taking action.
“There was no choice but to reveal this information, because the goal is to prompt the IAEA to take action,” the senior official said. “We wanted to wake up the world and pressure the IAEA to act against the suspected facilities in Iran.”
Channel 10 reported that the senior official revealed that the nuclear facility is under the supervision of a secret Iranian defense ministry department headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, named by Netanyahu in his April presentation of the seized nuclear archive as the Iranian physicist who heads the country’s nuclear program.
“Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu had said in April, showcasing the material that he said proved conclusively that Iran lied when it said it had not sought nuclear weapons and that the 2015 nuclear deal was built upon “Iranian deception.”
The Israeli official was adamant, by contrast, that what the Iranians were keeping in the newly revealed warehouse was considerably more grave than the contents of the archive. The official did not elaborate beyond saying it was “forbidden nuclear material,” the TV report said.
In May an Israeli TV report suggested Jerusalem may have decided not to assassinate Fakhrizadeh because it prefers to keep him alive and watch what he is up to, even as other Iranian nuclear experts have been assassinated in recent years in hits attributed to the Mossad.
At the General Assembly speech (full text here), the prime minister said the IAEA had failed to take any action after he revealed in April a nuclear archive that Israeli spies managed to spirit out of Iran, and so he was now revealing what he said was a “secret atomic warehouse” in the Turquzabad district of Tehran, a few miles from the archive.
Both the archive and warehouse, Netanyahu said, were proof that Iran had not given up its nuclear program. “Iran has not abandoned its goal to develop nuclear weapons…. Rest assured that will not happen. What Iran hides, Israel will find,” Netanyahu added.
On Thursday, Netanyahu also met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and urged him to ask the IAEA to investigate the facility.
He urged IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano, who he called “a good man,” to “do the right thing” and “go and inspect this atomic warehouse immediately — before the Iranians finish cleaning it out.”
Inspect “right here, right now,” he urged, “and inspect the other sites we told you about… Tell the world the truth about Iran.”
Iranian officials have dismissed Netanyahu’s claims about the atomic warehouse as unfounded and “obscene.”
Referring to Netanyahu’s statements as “ridiculous,” an Iranian state TV report said the country is committed to nonproliferation and Iran’s nuclear program is under surveillance of the IAEA. The website of state TV briefly reported the Netanyahu accusation and called it an “illusion.”
Agencies contributed to this report.