Benjamin Netanyahu created a global media storm when he announced ownership of new documents that would question Iran’s nuclear deal. Twitter feeds were full of conjecture debating what he would reveal – most probably some information showing Iran had continued its nuclear activities clandestinely after the nuclear deal had been reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 powers (China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany) in 2015.
But in the end, all Netanyahu’s presentation revealed was that Israel is still questioning the credibility of the deal in itself.
Netanyahu’s main argument was that the newly obtained documents showed that the deal “was built on lies”. He claimed that while Iran has always denied that it was pursuing nuclear weapons before the deal, the documents acknowledge that Iran had, under a project dubbed Project Amad, tried to develop nuclear weapons before 2003. He also added that Iran had in the past strived to fit a nuclear payload onto its Shahab 3 ballistic missile.
World leaders reacted to Netanyahu’s remarks differently. Donald Trump, who’s labelled the nuclear accord “a bad deal”, said that Netanyahu’s press conference proves him “100% right”. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, derided Netanyahu’s comments as a stunt meant to influence Trump’s decision on whether stay in the nuclear deal or not. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, responded more coolly: “What I have seen from the first reports is that Prime Minister Netanyahu has not put into question Iran’s compliance with … (the] post-2015 nuclear commitments.”
But beyond the diplomatic flurry Netanyahu surely intended to provoke, his press conference shows why preserving the deal is so vital. And while international organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certainly need time to study the files that Netanyahu is referring to, he hasn’t actually done much to undermine the deal’s credibility.
Truth and lies
First of all, one of the principal reasons why reaching an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme took more than 10 years was that the two sides could not trust each other. As former US president Barack Obama famously stated, the deal “is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification”. Given that Iran’s statements about its nuclear activities are immaterial as far as the deal’s premise is concerned, Netanyahu’s argument that false statements about past activities invalidate the deal doesn’t make sense.
More importantly, the IAEA report indicates that the international community was aware of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities. For instance, in its 2015 Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme, the IAEA specifically mentions Project Amad and Iran’s attempts between 2002-2003 to “integrate a new spherical payload into the existing payload chamber of the re-entry vehicle for the Shahab 3 missile”.
In other words, the nuclear deal in fact came about partly because of the IAEA’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, not in spite of them. And thanks to the deal according to a statement by director general Yukiya Amano: “The IAEA now has the world’s most robust verification regime in place in Iran.”
The P5+1 powers who negotiated the deal with Iran trust the IAEA’s data – and the fact it exists at all shows just how much the deal matters for Iran and the world. Without the Iran nuclear deal, Iran would never accept such rigid observations on its nuclear sites. Whatever Trump and his more hawkish advisers might say, this is still a good deal.