Israel has accused Iran of lying to the world about its nuclear weapons programme both before and since the 2015 nuclear deal after Israeli intelligence stole 100,000 files from a secret “atomic archive” in Tehran.
Benjamin Netanyahu, an arch-opponent of the nuclear deal, made the dramatic public accusation in Tel Aviv less than two weeks before Donald Trump is due to announce whether he is pulling the US out of the agreement.
The Israeli prime minister said that Israeli spies had obtained “half a tonne” of secret documents which show that Iran’s leaders never gave a full account of their past nuclear activities as required by the Iran deal and were maintaining the knowhow to build a bomb in the future.
“The nuclear deal is based on lies. It is based on Iranian lies and Iranian deception,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“This is a terrible deal which should never have been concluded and in a few days’ time President Trump will make his decision on what to do with the nuclear deal. I’m sure he will do the right thing. The right thing for the US, the right thing for Israel, and the right thing for the peace of the world.”
Mr Netanyahu’s presentation, made in front of a large screen at the Israeli defence ministry, seemed designed to convince Mr Trump to follow his instincts and pull the US out of the agreement ahead of a May 12 deadline.
Mr Trump said in Washington that the Israeli presentation “really showed that I’ve been 100 per cent right”. “That is just not an acceptable situation,” he said. “They [Iran] are not sitting back idly, they’re setting off missiles.”
Mr Trump refused to say what his final decision would be but said he was open to negotiating “a better deal”. Iran and other members of the P5+1 bloc of world powers have said it is not possible to renegotiate the agreement or strike a new pact.
Mr Netanyahu’s talk served as a counterweight to a furious diplomatic effort by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, who both visited the White House last week to implore Mr Trump not to scrap the agreement.
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Britain supports remaining in the agreement and Theresa May spoke to both her German and French counterparts about the situation over the weekend.
Mr Netanyahu said the files had already been shared with the US and that American intelligence “can vouch for its authenticity”. Israel plans to share it with other Western countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, mocked Mr Netanyahu’s speech before it even began. “The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again,” Mr Zarif said. “You can only fool some of the people so many times.
BREAKING: The boy who can't stop crying wolf is at it again. Undeterred by cartoon fiasco at UNGA. You can only fool some of the people so many times. pic.twitter.com/W7saODfZDK
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 30, 2018
Mr Netanyahu said the 55,000 pages and 55,000 electronic documents had been secreted out of an archive in the Shorabad district of southern Tehran. “Few Iranians knew where it was, very few, and also a few Israelis,” he said.
Mr Netanyahu said Israeli spies had pulled off one of their “biggest-ever intelligence achievements” by getting the files out of Tehran but gave no details about how they ended up in Israeli hands.
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The files were from “Project Amad”, which Mr Netanyahu said was a secret Iranian programme to develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s leaders have said consistently that they did not want a nuclear bomb and that their nuclear intentions were entirely peaceful.
Project Amad was shelved in 2003 but elements of it secretly continued and remain functional to this day under the direction of the same Iranian scientists who conducted the original research, Mr Netanyahu said.
He charged that Iran had failed to “come clean” about its past nuclear activities in 2015, after the nuclear deal was signed, when Iran was required by the agreement to tell the IAEA about all its previous research.
Iranian officials “denied the existence of a coordinated programme aimed at the development of a nuclear device and specifically denied the existence of the Amad Plan”, the IAEA wrote in its December 2015 assessment.
Mr Netanyahu said that Iran was preserving its nuclear knowhow, which could be applied again in 2026 when parts of the nuclear deal expire and Iran is allowed to return to largescale enrichment of uranium.
Mr Netanyahu did not present evidence that Iran was currently violating the terms of the nuclear deal, for example by secretly enriching uranium now.
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The IAEA has said consistently that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement. since it went into force in January 2016. It last certified Iran’s compliance in February of this year.
Senior US and Israeli military officers have also said in recent weeks that the Iran deal may be flawed but is achieving its central purpose of stopping Iranian progress towards a nuclear weapon.
“Right now the agreement, with all its faults, is working and is putting off realisation of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years,” said General Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Israeli military, in an interview on March 30.
General Joseph Votel, the top US commander in the Middle East, said on March 14 that the deal “addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran”.
The announcement was in character for Mr Netanyahu, who has a history of theatrical flourishes when it comes to announcements on Iran.
Six years ago, he brought a cartoon poster of a bomb to the United Nations as he warned against allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.