In January, Israeli intelligence agents infiltrated a secret Iranian facility and removed a trove of materials related to the country’s nuclear program.
The information confirmed what we already knew: that Iran has maintained the core of its nuclear program despite claims that it halted all nuclear activity in 2003. What we didn’t know, as reported by The Washington Post, was that in 2003 Iran was “on the cusp of mastering key bomb-making technologies.”
In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a dramatic presentation on the stolen documents and cited them as proof that Iran cannot be trusted.
This week, Israeli intelligence officials made public additional details including:
- How the documents were removed from a facility in Tehran
- The existence of design information for a nuclear bomb (provided to Iran by a foreign source)
- The existence of a secret metallurgical testing facility
- Attempts by Iranian officials to keep their nuclear program going after international inspectors confirmed it had been suspended
Tehran insists the documents are fake and has criticized the entire operation as an “orchestrated play” designed to convince President Trump to pull the United States out of the JCPOA – which he did less than a month after Netanyahu’s presentation.
Israel wanted Trump to pull out of the JCPOA because doing so would result in renewed US sanctions on Iran, a longtime enemy of Israel.
“Iran has always been clear that creating indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction is against what we stand for as a country and the notion that Iran would abandon any kind of sensitive information in some random warehouse in Tehran is laughably absurd. It’s almost as if they are trying to see what outlandish claims they can get a Western audience to believe,” said Iranian official Alireza Miryousefi.
Israel’s description of its raid in Tehran does sound like something out of an action film.
It all started in 2016, when Israel learned that Tehran had stashed away documents about its past nuclear activities after the signing of the JCPOA. The JCPOA, orchestrated by Obama, lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on uranium enrichment. Other signatories include China, Russia, France, Germany, and the UK.
In January 2017, Iranian officials moved the trove of documents to a warehouse in southern Tehran. That’s when Israel started planning the heist.
In an operation that lasted more than six hours, Israeli agents broke into the building, disabled the security system, and removed information from more than 30 safes. The agents left with roughly 50,000 pages of printed material and more than 180 computer disks. How the agents managed to move so much material out of the building without being detected remains unclear.
And while a majority of the documents describe activities that occurred before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the stolen information is significant in that it proves:
- Iran’s weapons development program was more advanced than we thought
- Nuclear research continued in secret after Iran publicly halted nuclear operations in 2003
The stolen information also includes photos of an explosives-testing site the IAEA had long searched for and memos describing uranium contamination at the site. And while the information does not explicitly prove that Iran violated the JCPOA, Israel insists it is enough to prove that Tehran cannot be trusted.
“This archive explains why we have doubts,” said one Israeli official. “It explains why the [JCPOA] to us is worse than nothing, because it leaves key parts of the nuclear program unaddressed. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
When the JCPOA’s restrictions expire in a few years, Iran will be allowed to resume work on a nuclear weapon Israel sees as a threat to its existence.
“These documents are old, but they have a bearing on the future,” said a second official. “It’s not a history lesson. They have capabilities they can use in the future.”
Supporters of the JCPOA insist the new revelations show why the nuclear deal was necessary. “We were at the table precisely because we knew that Iran harbored ambitions to build a nuclear bomb, and we wanted a verifiable agreement to block those ambitions,” argues former State Department official Jake Sullivan. “In my view, the recent revelations do the opposite of undermine the deal – they reinforce the need for it.”
The JCPOA, which is still in effect despite Trump’s withdrawal, supposedly blocks Iran from obtaining the materials it would need to build a nuke and includes provisions that will alert the IAEA if Iran starts to build a weapon.
The nuclear agreement was the “least risky option to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” says nuclear physicist James Acton. Abandoning the JCPOA “could have – in fact, will likely have – the effect of bringing these problems forward by many years.”
Editor’s note: The JCPOA was a ludicrous deal from the start. No one trusted Iran to keep its bargains, not even the Obama Administration.