“Iran lied about never having a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said in a press conference in the government’s defense compound in Tel Aviv. “After signing the nuclear deal in 2015 Iran intensified its efforts to hide its nuclear files,” he said.
Israel uncovered 55,000 pages of material on a weapons program that operated between 1999 and 2003 codenamed Project Amad, he said, pulling back a curtain to reveal shelves filled with what appeared to be binders and compact discs of information. He said the nuclear program continued after it was subsumed under a different guise.
Netanyahu spoke less than two weeks before Trump is to decide whether the U.S. will pull out of the international agreement between Iran and six world powers that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The accord lifts restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities beginning in 2025, and Trump has warned that he would withdraw from the pact unless it was revised to bar Iran from ever developing atomic weapons.
Shared With U.S.
Netanyahu said Israel has shared the information it has obtained with the U.S., and that he was sure Trump would “do the right thing” when he decides on May 12 whether to remain in the nuclear accord. The U.S. has verified the material as authentic, said a person familiar with the matter.
“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said.
Trump’s new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, made it clear while visiting Jerusalem on Sunday that the U.S. leader would insist on changes to the accord.
“President Trump’s been pretty clear. This deal is very flawed,” Pompeo said during a joint appearance with Netanyahu. “He’s directed the administration to try and fix it, and if we can’t fix it, he’s going to withdraw from the deal. It’s pretty straightforward.”
Netanyahu made his announcement as rising tensions between Iran and Israel have been stoking fears that the two Middle Eastern powers are headed for a military showdown in Syria.
Iran denies it is developing a nuclear weapon and says its nuclear program is for energy and medical purposes. United Nations nuclear inspectors have reported 10 straight times that Iran has capped its most sensitive nuclear work that could be used to develop a bomb. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency ended a 12-year probe in December 2015 into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past atomic work.
“Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime,” IAEA Chief Coordinator Cornel Feruta told diplomats on April 23 in Geneva. The agency captures hundreds of thousands of images daily and analyzes millions of sources of open-source data each month, he said.
Israel hasn’t been pacified by these reports, and continues to see Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat to its survival. Having failed to sway the U.S. from concluding the signature foreign-policy initiative of then-President Barack Obama, it has found a more receptive ear in the Trump administration, which has set a May 12 deadline for the U.S. and Europe to address issues that aren’t covered in the nuclear pact.
So far the White House has failed to win the support of European allies that are also signatories to the 2015 accord. French President Emmanuel Macron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday agreed to work together to preserve the accord. Days earlier, Macron told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May that he urged the U.S. during a trip to Washington last week to stay in the deal and integrate it in a larger framework, rather than walk away.
Rouhani has said Trump’s insistence on changing terms of a seven-party deal violates the agreement. In a readout posted on Iran’s official government website, he said the deal is “by no means negotiable” and Iran won’t accept additional restrictions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Netanyahu of being a bluffer in a tweet alluding to his use of a cartoon bomb prop at a 2012 UN General Assembly meeting to warn against Iran’s nuclear program. “The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again,” Zarif wrote after Netanyahu’s office flagged that he would deliver a statement on Iran. “Undeterred by cartoon fiasco at UNGA,” Zarif wrote. “You can only fool some of the people so many times.
Netanyahu’s concerns have been magnified by Iran’s involvement in the civil war in neighboring Syria, where Tehran is now shoring up military gains achieved while backing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Israel has said it won’t let Iran entrench itself in Syria. The Israeli military has carried out dozens of attacks against Iranian weapons shipments it says were bound through Syria for Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy militia in Lebanon.
Suspicions have fallen on Israel over an unclaimed missile attack late Sunday on Iranian and Syrian military positions in Syria. Israel hasn’t commented on that strike, or on an April 9 attack that the New York Times said Israel conducted against the Iranian drone program in Syria.
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