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'It's very clear Iran is lying' -- Netanyahu

Netanyahu: Tehran working toward ‘arsenal of nuclear bombs’

But Jerusalem ‘committed to stop it,’ prime minister tells former deputy chief of UN nuclear watchdog, who praises Mossad operation to reveal secret nuclear warehouse in Iran

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Olli Heinonen, the former deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at his office in Jerusalem on June 6, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Olli Heinonen, the former deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at his office in Jerusalem on June 6, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Iran is actively trying to obtain an “arsenal of nuclear bombs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, amid ongoing tensions between the Islamic Republic and the US after the unraveling of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal.

“It’s very clear Iran is lying. Iran is continuing to work toward an arsenal of nuclear bombs, and we’re committed to stop it,” he said during a meeting with Olli Heinonen, an former deputy director-general at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Heinonen, in a series of interviews and lectures this week, repeatedly accused Iran of violating its commitments under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Islamic Republic would be theoretically be able to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within six to eight months, he said, though building an actual bomb would take longer.

“Thank you for your forthright analysis and your clear-cut conclusion. I thank you for pointing out what Iran is doing,” Netanyahu told the Finnish-born scientist at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

Heinonen, who today serves as senior adviser on science and nonproliferation at the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, thanked Netanyahu for revealing information about Iran’s secret nuclear archive last year.

“Thank you for this brave action of taking them out [the nuclear archive documents] because this gives the material for the international community to think about it and it’s a good place on how to talk with the Iranians, how to stop it,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on an archive brought out of Iran by the Mossad that documents Iran’s nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Last year, Mossad agents smuggled out some 100,000 documents on 55,000 pages on 183 CDs from an unmarked Tehran warehouse. According to Israeli officials, the documents proved that the Islamic Republic had actively worked on building a nuclear weapon, something Tehran has always denied and continues to deny.

According to Heinonen, a former IAEA’s deputy director-general for safeguards, only a fifth of the archival material was brought to Israel. “There is another 80 percent that stayed behind,” he said earlier Thursday at a lecture at a Jerusalem think tank.

Heinonen also said Tehran’s nuclear scientists — which he described as “the best of the best” — today could produce enough fissile material for an atomic bomb within six to eight months, though it was unclear how long it would take them to actually build such a device.

“Material from the nuclear archives seized by Israel a year ago combined together with information available from official IAEA reports provide strong indication that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had proceeded substantially further than what was stated by Iran and concluded by the IAEA in its latest assessment in December 2015,” according to the Finnish-born scientist.

“There was a cohesive plan to manufacture nuclear weapons, and when and after the plan was halted, the IAEA was not provided, as was stated by Iran, with a full disclosure of the past nuclear program,” he said.

Despite his criticism of Iran, on Wednesday, in an interview with Army Radio, Heinonen rapped the administration of US President Donald Trump for its decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May 2018, suggesting Washington’s aggressive stance toward Tehran could prove counterproductive.

“I think they felt comfortable [with the Trump decision]. They have the enrichment technology and they can create more centrifuges. Probably they [will be] able to withstand a lot of sanctions,” he said.

On May 15, Iran announced it was stepping up its uranium enrichment program in response to the United States’ decision the previous year to drop out of the 2015 nuclear deal and impose heavy economic sanctions on Iran and the countries and groups that do business with it.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was staying within the limitations set by the 2015 nuclear accord, though its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water were growing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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