WASHINGTON (Circa) — Standing in front of a bookshelf of binders and a display of dozens of CDs, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an English language broadcast claiming Israel obtained new evidence Iran has been "brazenly lying" to the international community about its nuclear weapons program.
Containing more than 100,000 documents and computer files stolen by the Israeli intelligence service, the Iranian atomic archive purports to prove the regime secretly withheld technical information about its 2003 nuclear program, Project Amad, to enable it to develop nuclear weapons at a future date.
Wielding literally a half-ton of intelligence documents, Netanyahu argued the files prove "Iran lied" that "the Iran deal, the nuclear deal, is based on lies."
The timing of Netanyahu's announcement is not a coincidence. In less than two weeks, President Donald Trump faces a deadline to recertify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It will be the third time the deal has come up for reauthorization since Trump took office.
Many have argued Netanyahu's speech was intended for an audience of one, Donald Trump.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer denied the Monday presentation was a last-ditch attempt to sway the U.S. president, explaining Trump and Netanyahu already share the same outlook on the Iran deal.
"We believe President Trump will do the right thing for America, for Israel and for the world," Dermer told Sinclair Broadcast Group. "It's very clear where President Trump stands on this deal...He said it's a dangerous deal, he's right. He said it should have never been signed, he's right."
A U.S. withdrawal is Netanyahu's hope and the fear of the European parties to the JCPOA. In recent weeks, France, German and the U.K. have made their own appeals to the White House seeking ways to address some of Trump's central concerns.
"Everybody is making their closing arguments before the president decides what to do on the 12th," said Alexandra Bell, who served in the State Department's arms control bureau during the Iran nuclear negotiations. That includes Netanyahu with his dramatic presentation Monday and round of interviews on U.S. cable news networks Tuesday.
After grudgingly agreeing to remain a party to the agreement, Trump warned in January it would be the last time. If the U.S. and its European allies could not fix the "terrible flaws" in the deal, the United States would withdraw, Trump said. "This is a last chance."
Facing a "fix it or nix it" ultimatum, French President Emannuel Macronpublicly outlined three elements to improve the nuclear agreement during his visit to Washington last week. Macron proposed increasing non-nuclear sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program and malign regional activities, and extending limitations on Iran's nuclear program beyond the current 2025 sunset date to 2030. President Trump has not signaled whether he believes the French proposal goes far enough.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also discussed the nuclear agreement during her visit with President Trump last week, and it was also on the agenda in the president's recent phone calls with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Despite its flaws, each leader argued the JCPOA is the best diplomatic option to block Iran's pathway to a nuclear weapon.
According to Amb. Dermer, Israel's latest intelligence will be a game-changer for European leaders who have been adamantly committed to the terms of the Iran deal.
The material in the Iranian atomic archive "enables President Trump to not only make his decision," Dermer said, "but I think it will actually enable him to bring the Europeans—the Germans, the French and the British—over to his side when he makes that decision."
On Monday, Israel shared the full archive of Iranian documents with U.S., British, French and German intelligence services as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA, in charge of monitoring the implementation of the nuclear agreement has repeatedly found Iran to be in compliance with the 2015 deal.
Five of the P5+1 nations who originally signed onto the JCPOA issued statements after Israel released its findings indicating they are not convinced by Netanyahu's claims.
France, while open to amending the deal said through the Foreign Ministry that Israeli claims "strengthen the relevance" of the deal. The German Foreign Ministry repeated its position that the deal should be enforced using the "robust" international monitoring tools. And Britain's Foreign Office reaffirmed support for the deal, while asserting it has "never been naive about Iran and its nuclear intentions." Both China and Russia have expressed "unwavering support" for the agreement and oppose efforts to amend the agreement.
The chief argument against what Israeli officials have called a "smoking bomb," is that the information obtained by Israeli intelligence not new. Former U.S. officials argued this information Netanyahu presented Monday was already well-known to U.S. and international intelligence services as well as the IAEA.
In his speech, Netanyahu insisted Iran lied to the international community about its intent to develop nuclear weapons and showed slides of Iranian plans from 2003 to design, produce and test a small nuclear arsenal of nuclear.
By keeping the plans in a secret location and shifting research and development to "covert and overt" programs, Israel believes Iran continues pursuing and making progress towards a nuclear weapons capability. This, despite assuring the international community it has no intentions of obtaining an atomic bomb.
What does the JCPOA mean for #IAEA inspection activities in #Iran?— IAEA (@iaeaorg) March 25, 2018
☑️Under the programme, the IAEA has wider access to, & more info. on, Iran’s nuclear programme.
☑️Under the JCPOA, the IAEA implements a more robust verification system.
See in detail ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/KAiTWwpJD6
"I think this is fundamentally old news," former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden told CNN Tuesday.
In 2007, when Hayden was CIA chief under President George W. Bush, the intelligence community produced a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing Iran had stopped its illicit nuclear weapons program, Project Amad. The assessment was reaffirmed in the 2011 NIE under Obama. Despite ending their overt pursuit of a nuclear weapon, the United States and international community remained focused on the regime's pursuit of dual-use technologies, including developing centrifuges, enriching uranium enrichment and developing ballistic missiles.
All were signs the regime was still on the path to a nuclear breakout capability, and according to Obama administration officials, all these considerations were part of the 2015 agreement. "Credit to the Israeli intelligence service for getting this trove of documents and digital records," Hayden said, "but I think all it does...is give more details to the plot line that we all knew."
"Credit to the Israeli intelligence service for getting this trove of documents ... but I think all it does, Chris, is give more detail to the plotline that we all knew": Former CIA Director Michael Hayden calls Netanyahu's claims about Iran's nuclear program "old news" pic.twitter.com/3lweOEl5nL— New Day (@NewDay) May 1, 2018
Amb. Dermer rejected the former CIA director's claims as "totally false," asserting there is new information documenting "the vast extent" of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
"We knew that Iran had a nuclear weapons program before but there was a question mark over a lot of its activities," explained Dermer. "Yesterday's presentation from the prime minister was a dramatic exclamation point and it shows the level of deception [by] Iran of the international community."
Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies agreed the documents are new facts and new questions.
"We were led to believe Iran had given up its nuclear weapons program," Goldberg said, noting full disclosure of its past and present work to the IAEA was a precondition for international sanctions relief. "Iran lied to the IAEA from the outset of the deal and violated its commitment to never pursue nuclear weapons....Right now Iran’s on a slow-walk to a nuclear weapon under cover of a flawed deal."
In the arms control community, many experts and former officials have cautioned against drawing conclusions about the Iran deal on the basis of Israel's new intelligence cache. Some have pointed to Netanyahu's enthusiastic support in 2002 for the false intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, warning Israel's latest claims could be used to justify a conflict with Iran.
Netanyahu was a chief cheerleader for the false nuke claim used to justify the disastrous Iraq War.And he’s at it again w the hawks In Washington with his sights set on Iran this time.The JCPOA is the way to prevent an Iran weapon program. https://t.co/Dg1zJm858F— Laura Kennedy (@AmbKennedy_ret) May 1, 2018
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who led the CIA until last week, affirmed Monday the documents were "authentic" and "new," noting Israeli intelligence produced "thousands of new documents and new information."
Following a meeting with Netanyahu at an Israeli military headquarters, Pompeo denied reports questioning the authenticity of the documents. "I can confirm with you, for you, that these documents are real, they are authentic," he told reporters.
If President Trump uses the Israeli intelligence to justify a withdrawal from the nuclear deal, it could put the United States and Iran back on a path to conflict, warned Matthew Kroenig, deputy director for strategy at the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center.
Recalling the dynamic in the early 2010s, Kroenig noted, "Iran's program was advancing. People were asking, 'Will Iran get the bomb? Will we have to bomb Iran?'"
Asked if Iran would restart their nuclear program if Pres. Trump pulls U.S. out of nuclear deal, Pres. Trump tells @jonkarl, "They're not going to be restarting anything."— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 24, 2018
"They restart it, they're going to have big problems, bigger than they've ever had before." pic.twitter.com/k4abo4EWQk
A U.S. withdrawal would not only allow the administration to snap-back sanctions against Iran, but it would also free Iran to begin ramping up its nuclear program again. "In a way, we could return to the kind of crisis we had with Iran before the deal was struck," he said.
Bell was even more explicit, saying without the multilateral Iran nuclear deal and the verification regime it put in place, there is nothing to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.
"If we let this deal fall apart with no clear alternative diplomatic solution, then again we find ourselves in the same situation of looking another conflict in the region," she warned.
Another wildcard is how the intelligence will be processed by National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary Pompeo, the new, more hawkish additions to Trump's national security team. Previously, Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster advised Trump to stay in the nuclear agreement.