Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Iran Lied” presentation on Monday quickly opined that it contained nothing new and, since it didn’t point to violations since the 2015 Iran deal, it in fact showed Tehran is in full compliance.
The stunning display of a half ton worth of documents and computer files that Israeli intelligence managed to somehow steal from Iran is a trove that would be devoured by intelligence agencies and international inspectors — and they’re unlikely to just look for signs of “something new.”
Why? “To know your future you must know your past,” said the ever-quotable philosopher George Santayana.
Can we really trust we know the Iran’s current nuclear status without accounting for what happened in the past? Not according to some who know how nuclear inspections actually work. It’s difficult to say whether Iran is advancing in its nuclear program without completely accounting for what it did before.
As Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a press call shortly before the Iran deal was signed, “When the agreement comes in force, there will be a complete declaration by Iran on its . . . past and current nuclear program. That’s the first prerequisite.”
Well, Iran never actually agreed to make such a declaration. Although the IAEA professionals know such accounting is necessary, American and European negotiators didn’t insist on it.
Instead, they bought generalized public declarations by Iranian officials. As Netanyahu showed in his presentation, those included statements by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and the ever-smiling Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. All said pursuing nuclear bombs is, literally, against their religion.
In fact, in order to sell the deal to the American public American officials, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, even highlighted a religious edict, a fatwa, Khamenei supposedly issued to that effect.
And so, Iran never actually gave the IAEA, charged with inspecting its compliance with the deal, a full accounting of past nuclear activity. In addition, in some cases, as when inspectors attempted to visit the Parchin military base, Iran allowed only very limited access to suspected sites.
How would we know what Iran initially did at Parchin? “A comprehensive understanding of [past] work [there] is critical to setting a baseline for effective monitoring to ensure early detection if Iran resumes work on nuclear weapons,” Heinonen wrote last year in an essay with other proliferation experts.
Exposing Iran’s past lies is an important tool for inspectors in their pursuit of current truths.
On Monday Netanyahu said the new trove contains evidence that Iran’s Project Amad was “a comprehensive program to design, build and test 5 warheads, each with 10 kilotons TNT yield, for integration on a missile.”
Did the program go away after the JCPOA was enacted? If so, the 2015 deal deserves the accolades of those who continue chiming that the Iranian are “in compliance.”
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But after establishing that the deal was based on past Iranian lies, and presenting new documentation to back it up, Netanyahu sounds more credible when he assesses that Iran is storing the material in a secret place “to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”
Especially that Tehran refuses to make the former head of the Amad Project, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, available for inspectors’ interviews. (Fakhrizadeh, a major player in Iran’s military research, is designated by the United Nations for international sanctions.)
The more we know about how Iran deceived us in the past about the depth of its program and its true intentions, the less we can confidently argue that Iran is currently in “full compliance.”
Netanyahu made his presentation after hosting new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Israel and after concluding a telephone call with President Trump Saturday. Contrary to instant commentary, Trump was not the target audience for the drama. Netanyahu made clear the US, as well as other close allies, already have the material Israel unearthed (the IAEA will get it soon, he added.)
Instead, by giving a pause to those, especially in Europe, who maintain that the nuclear deal is “working,” he forced them to try harder to “fix” the JCPOA if they want Trump not to “nix” it.
The deadline is May 21. Tick tock.
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