On Monday, April 30 afternoon, or 20 p.m. Israeli time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed up in front of a camera and showed a low-cost PowerPoint presentation with photos and slides in Farsi. Israeli intelligence, he said, had discovered evidence that Iran was working on “Project Amad,” a secret plan to develop and test nuclear weapons in 2015, at the time of the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“The Iran nuclear deal is based on lies!” Netanyahu declared in English. “One-hundred-thousand files right here prove that they lied.” And then he appealed to Trump, who has said he will decide on whether to stay or leave the deal by May 12.
But is this new information the deal-breaker Netanyahu presented it as being? Project Amad was a covert Iranian scientific project intended to develop nuclear bombs. Its details were previously known by the IAEA already in 2011 and summarized in 2015 in a final assessment report.
The IAEA had long assumed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, as did everyone involved in the JCPOA. So when Netanyahu says the entire basis for the deal was a lie, he’s only partly correct: Iran may have lied, but the deal was already based on the assumption that Iran had lied. The basis for the deal was a face-saving way out for Iran. Netanyahu may have forgotten to give any indication that the IAEA knew about project Amad and had already written extensively about lots of these different activities.
In terms of political strategy, it is obviously no coincidence that this press conference was organised 12 days before the planned date of the Trump decisions. Netanyahu has basically acknowledged at the end of the intervention that he wants Trump to withdraw from the agreement with Iran.
It was not an unprecedented case to have a national leader presenting raw intelligence like that: it remembers Colin Powell at the U.N. in 2003 presenting the “evidence” on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Given that there is a serious risk of escalation in the region, what did Netanyahu hope for with this presentation? He clearly doesn’t like the JCPOA. It is also clear that he wants a war with Iran as strongly indicated by his Defence Minister, Avigdor Liberman, in New York on 29 April during the Jerusalem Post conference.