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Does the Netanyahu evidence contain anything we did not know about Iran?

Israel’s spies pulled off an incredible coup by spiriting documents out of Tehran, but we do not know if they say anything new

    Benjamin Netanyahu's speech made us of slides and props on stage
    Benjamin Netanyahu's speech made us of slides and props on stage (Photo: Getty Images)

    It had all the hallmarks of a classic Netanyahu show.

    Reporters were called in at short notice, promised with intriguing “game-changing” details of Iranian duplicity. A stage was filled with props and a slideshow of breathtaking evidence.

    And at the centre of it, the prime minister himself, master of ceremonies, determined to prove that Iran had been hoodwinking the world for years and that the nuclear deal signed with it three years ago was based on lies.

    The first headline in Benjamin Netanyahu’s delivery was indeed explosive.

    Israeli agents had succeeded in locating Iran’s secret nuclear archive in Tehran and, in a daring operation, removed half a ton of documents and electronic files overnight and spirited them to Israel.

    Analysed by intelligence experts, the trove yielded fascinating details of years of nuclear weapons research.

    But what Mr Netanyahu failed to explain was whether there was anything actually new in the material that changed the way the world should see Iran’s nuclear programme.

    Most of the information he presented tallied with what had already been reported years ago by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

    Was there any actual proof that any of this research had taken place after Iran signed the agreement?

    On this score, the prime minister was less clear.

    As the skepticism of an underwhelmed media grew, Mr Netanyahu’s office sought to underline his message, putting out talking points such as “It’s hard to believe that if they had this information, the IAEA would have closed the case on Iran’s military nuclear programme.”

    But the IAEA has not closed the case; it is verifying the Iran deal’s implementation.

    And as US Secretary of Defence James Mattis, who was appraised of Israel’s findings, said last week, deal was “written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat”.

    If everyone already knows Iran was working on a nuclear bomb, and if everyone is assuming Iran lied and will continue to lie, why was Mr Netanyahu holding a dramatic press conference?

    The answer arrived in the shape of that White House statement saying that the secret archive obtained by Israel “provides new and compelling details about Iran’s efforts to develop missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.”

    The statement was of course coordinated.

    Mr Netanyahu is working closely with President Donald Trump and his team, who have almost certainly decided already to announce by May 12 that the US is pulling out of the Iran deal.

    The prime minister was trying to use the incredible coup pulled off by Israel’s spies in obtaining the nuclear archive to prove Mr Trump’s case against his predecessor Barack Obama’s legacy.

    But he failed to resolve a key question. Does the wealth of technical information on what Iran was up to in the past mean that the Iran deal should never have been signed, or does it mean the deal more crucial than ever?

    So far the prime minister has only succeeded in entrenching the two sides in their positions.

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