What Netanyahu’s dramatic speech about Iran’s nuclear program revealed — and concealed

Or Rabinowitz, MENACS member and lecturer in international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, deciphers Israeli PM Netanyahu’s ‘Iran Nuclear Archives’ presentation in The Washington Post, providing a deep-dive analysis into what the presentation reveals about Iran’s nuclear program, as well as about Israel’s Middle East policy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no amateur when it comes to appearing on live television. In a televised speech Monday, Netanyahu made bold accusations about Iran’s nuclear record. The speech came ahead of President Trump’s expected announcement about whether the U.S. will continue to participate in the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, on May 12.

Not one to shy away from props, Netanyahu dramatically pulled a curtain to reveal bookshelves containing dozens of files and CDs, copies of original Iranian documents secretly removed from Tehran by Israeli agents in recent weeks. The documents, Netanyahu said, represented Iran’s “nuclear archive” — information on Iran’s 1999-2003 nuclear weapons program. Incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vouched for their authenticity.

Iranian possession of this “nuclear archive” is not a clear JCPOA violation. However, a precedent supports the argument that retaining these documents violates Iran’s obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Did the presentation reveal anything new?

As commentator Joshua Pollack noted, some of the documents contained details hitherto unknown outside the intelligence community. Most notable was the planned Iranian nuclear arsenal’s size: It would have included five nuclear devices with a yield of 10 kilotons each.

But the captured documents refer only to Iranian activities that were finished by 2003 — about which the international community already knew. While Netanyahu implied that nuclear weapons development had continued, he presented no evidence to that effect.

Western reaction was split. The White House welcomed Netanyahu’s presentation as containing “new and compelling details.” European powers maintained that they had learned nothing new.

1. Did Netanyahu prove that Iran was in violation of the JCPOA?

No. Netanyahu accused Iran of lying in 2015 “when it didn’t come clean to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] as required by the nuclear deal.” However, this by itself does not violate the JCPOA. The agreement, signed in July 2015, did require Iran to cooperate with the IAEA in investigating its nuclear past. The deal did not require Iran to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

For the full analysis, continue reading on The Washington Post.