Why Netanyahu's revelations should make Trump uphold the Iran nuclear deal

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's on Monday said that Israeli intelligence had discovered Iranian secret archives from a decade ago showing plans for nuclear weapons.
  • The revelations come as President Trump considers whether to stay in the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated during the Obama administration.
  • Israel's discovery actually offers arguments for why Trump should stay in the deal.
Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018.
Amir Cohen | Reuters
Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018.

Too often the fog of war rolls in after the clouds of half-truths and hyperbole. We are now witnessing the aggressive seeding of the clouds that may lead all too quickly to that fog of war.

National capitals reverberated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech Monday that Israeli intelligence had discovered Iranian secret archives containing "among other things, blueprints, charts, photos, videos and presentations dealing with nuclear weaponry."

In the tens of thousands of materials, Netanyahu claims, are details about the secret Project Amad which Iran operated for years before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015.

The Prime Minister stated these materials about Iran's nuclear history, intentions and practices, proved him "100 percent right" that Iran deceived the international community and cannot be trusted to uphold the nuclear deal.

Nothing new

He failed to mention that nearly every weapons analyst and diplomat engaged in negotiating the deal had known of the project for years. Netanyahu's speech led President Donald Trump to follow up with remarks during his press conference with the Nigerian president.

Mr. Trump stated that his opposition to the deal had always been "100 percent right" and now upheld by the Israeli announcements.

This flurry of major statements follows quickly after new Secretary of State Pompeo's day-after-confirmation trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia this weekend.

In strong and consistent statements, as if they had been developed for weeks, Pompeo expressed deep concern about how the Iran deal did nothing to deter Iran's aggression in the region, support for terrorism, or development of new missile systems.

That the agreement does not include any of those realities because it is aimed at curtailing centrifuge production and uranium enrichment — and that it has done so successfully — was not mentioned.

This burst of assertions against Iran should not be a surprise. In early March, speaking before the annual meeting in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC], the speeches of Mr. Netanyahu, Vice-President Pence and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Haley all echoed that the flawed Iran deal does not sufficiently constrain Iran from being a threat to Israel in many ways.

These claims create the feeling of an all-too-well-orchestrated crisis that the U.S.-Israeli alliance must address forcefully and soon. The narrative awaits some "trigger event" between Iranian forces and Israel in Syria that would lead Israel to declare it was facing imminent attack. Then, the cloud of crisis would give way to the fog of war.

Three reasons to stay in the deal

Ironically, these recent pronouncements and crisis escalations help to crystalize three approaches to pressure President Trump to stay in the Iran agreement.

First, the generals and Pentagon nuclear analysts are still telling the White House to preserve the Iran Deal. And their leader, Secretary of Defense Mattis, testified yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the utility of the JCPOA for the U.S. and global security.

He said there was no compelling reason for the president to abandon the deal, even as he asserted that U.S. goals were also to stifle Iran's troublesome behavior in the region. Mattis' claims need amplification by various other policy influencers.

Second, U.S. intelligence analysts should insist that a full review of Israeli's archival Iran files be completed to test their accuracy regarding post-JCPOA Iranian actions and resources against the findings of IAEA on-the-ground monitoring.

We must remind the White House that only the deal in full operative form provides for such monitoring to continue, and such a comparative review is imperative. Thus, it is in U.S. interests that the deal remain in place to function.

President Trump likes having leverage, but withdrawing from the deal now actually gives that away with little in return. This is especially the case as Europe will remain in the deal, adding to its business advantages through greater economic exchanges with Iran.

Meanwhile the U.S. needlessly isolates itself while it mistakenly thinks it has isolated Iran. And, the president needs to remember that if he stays in the deal, the threat that he might withdraw later actually increases his leverage in areas where he wants to press Iran.

Third, for those in Congress who worry that a more aggressive national security team in the White House may push the President too quickly to use military force, this week should focus their concern about the increased risk of military response to Iranian actions.

In light of the Israeli claims and the impending May 12 deadline, Congressional committees should press adviser Bolton and Secretary Pompeo on the specific sections of the Iran deal that evidence supports are being violated by Iran and to seek assurances on U.S. actions to continue diplomatically to address these as provided in the JCPOA itself.

In working in these three directions, the U.S. policy community would be employing the best sense of Ronald Reagan's "trust but verify" strategy regarding new information about the nuclear deal. This needs to be done before Trump kills the deal as the first casualty of the coming war.

Commentary by George A. Lopez, the Hesburgh Professor Emeritus of Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs. Follow him on Twitter

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