Israel media review

Nuclear lies: 6 things to know for May 1

The prime minister drops a figurative bomb on Iran by revealing top-secret incriminating documents, but it’s not clear whether the US will pull out of its deal with Tehran

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

1. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic revelation of a daring operation in which the Mossad acquired half a ton of documents from a top-secret warehouse used to store Iran’s nuclear weapons files is the top news, leaving everyone to scratch their heads over what the newly unveiled information means for the future of the nuclear deal with Tehran.

  • Netanyahu held a press conference in which he displayed the trove of documents in a presentation aimed at proving that Iran has lied about its covert atomic weapons program.
  • A senior Israeli official, who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity to discuss the secret mission, said the Mossad had discovered the warehouse in February 2016, and had the building under surveillance since then.
  • The operatives broke into the building one night last February, removed the original documents and smuggled them back to Israel the same night, the official said, according to the paper.

2. The prime minister unveiled the results of the Mossad operation as he pulled black curtains off a bookshelf full of binders apparently containing years’ worth of “incriminating” information on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

  • Netanyahu declared that “everything you’re about to see is an exact copy of the original Iranian material.” For anyone who was worried, the prime minister clarified that the originals were “now in a very safe place.”
  • The binders displayed by Netanyahu were stacked with 55,000 pages of physical documents and a display board of 183 CDs holding another 55,000 digital files.

3. The target audience of Netanyahu’s display, which was delivered in English, was seen by many as US President Donald Trump in the White House.

  • The White House commented on the information provided by the prime minister saying it included “new and compelling details about Iran’s efforts to develop missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.”
  • However, Trump has so far declined to share whether he’s decided to walk away from the agreement with Iran by May 12, the next deadline to waive sanctions against the Islamic Republic under the deal. Trump last signed those waivers in January, but he said he would not again unless Congress and European allies amend the pact.

4. While Netanyahu’s announcement did indeed show that Iranian officials had clearly lied when they said their country never planned to manufacture nuclear weapons and put them on ballistic missiles, these facts were well-documented and had already been made publicly available by the International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog back in 2011.

  • The details about Iran’s AMAD nuclear weapons program, the identity of project leader Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Tehran’s plans to put a nuclear warhead on a Shahab-3 ballistic missile, and the suspicion that efforts to create an atomic bomb continued after AMAD was formally shuttered in 2003 can be found in the heavily footnoted IAEA report from nearly seven years ago.
  • Nevertheless, some have argued that Iran’s ongoing efforts to conceal the documents represent a violation of one of the main aspects of the nuclear deal, which includes a pledge by the Islamic Republic that “under no circumstances” will it “ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” Critics of the Iran deal argue that carefully maintaining and moving the contents of this “atomic archive” is itself evidence that Iran is still seeking nuclear weapons.

5. So far, despite Netanyahu’s presentation, it seems that the five countries besides the US that signed the deal with Iran in 2015 will mostly likely not change their mind over the necessity of the agreement.

  • European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini argued that six world powers struck the nuclear deal with Iran precisely because of Tehran’s history of lying about its secret nuclear weapons programs. The pact “was put in place exactly because there was no trust between the parties; otherwise we would not have required a nuclear deal to be put in place,” she said, adding that Netanyahu failed to present any evidence showing that Iran was violating the terms of the agreement.
  • According to a readout provided by the Kremlin, Moscow was thoroughly unimpressed with Netnayahu’s presentation as well. “The deal, which is of paramount importance to ensuring international stability and security, must be strictly observed by all parties,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told Netanyahu.
  • Earlier on Monday, Putin spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the merits of the Iran deal. “The Russian and French presidents called for preserving and strictly implementing the plan,” the Kremlin stated.

6. The prime minister’s showcasing of the Iranian documents comes on the heels of an alleged attack by Israel late Sunday on two Iranian-controlled military bases in northern Syria, one near the city of Hama and the other near Aleppo.

  • The Sunday attack on the weapons depot destroyed some 200 surface-to-surface rockets, a member of the pro-regime coalition told The New York Times, adding that the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians.
  • Speaking on condition of anonymity about the attack, the official joined other regional officials in saying that Tehran can be expected to hit back at Israel for the bombing, the Times report said. However, Iran would likely wait to do so until after May 6 parliamentary elections in neighboring Lebanon, where its ally Hezbollah is fielding candidates, the officials said.
  • Israel, which rarely confirms or denies its attacks in Syria, has remained mum on the issue so far.
  • Earlier this month on Syria’s T4 air base in central province of Homs that killed seven Iranian military personnel. Tehran has vowed to retaliate for the T4 attack as well.

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