It’s the stuff of Hollywood heist films as written by Tom Clancy: Israeli spies found a cache of secret documents in a secret Iranian warehouse that conveniently shows Iran has broken the nuclear deal it negotiated with the USA and Europe. It’s gripping stuff, a great political thriller, but is it actually true? It’s worth asking because it all seems too good to be true which means it probably is.
Surely though, Israel wouldn’t lie about a matter this big or politically devastating? Surely, Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump facing his own internal scandals, would never stoke tensions with a hated enemy of his country? Surely, he would never lie about something as important as this?
Yes, he would. He probably has, but it’s hard to verify. There are a few pointers that suggest that Netanyahu is certainly being a little economical with the truth.
Firstly, there’s the story of how the documents came to light (mentioned above) which seems a little hard to believe. If these documents are so important, why weren’t they better protected? Why would they be stored in a secret warehouse rather than, say, the government offices in Tehran? Was there an ‘inside man’ or did they just break open a filing cabinet with a dodgy lock? Spy missions are rarely made public, even the exploits of Mossad agents who like to prove how they are the best in the world. The story makes less sense to more you consider it.
Secondly, the contents aren’t actually that secret. In fact, the information Netanyahu presented was information that was submitted to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2011. There was no substantive new information and some has even argued that the alleged breaches happened years before the deal was even considered. Even Trump would struggle to blame Iran for breaching a treaty signed in 2016 for actions it took back in 2009, but that wouldn’t stop him from trying to justify pulling the plug.
That is what Netanyahu is hoping to achieve: Trump pulling out of the deal and treating Iran like the enemy again.
When Obama greenlit the deal, Republicans weren’t the only one to balk at the arrangement. Israel has been against the deal with Iran since its inception, painting it as a threat to their national security and warning that Iran was not a reliable partner. From the start, Netanyahu has wanted this deal killed off to limit Iran’s growing influence and prevent it from becoming a regional power worth worrying about. Israel has held off most of its Arab enemies such as Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Iran is different: well-organized, well-armed and, thanks to the Syrian conflict, well-placed for a secret first strike.
Netanyahu has felt an affinity to Trump and was no doubt heartened by the latter’s decision to move the US embassy into Jerusalem, strengthening his position and practically killing off the ‘two-state’ solution that hardliners never really liked. Sticking two fingers to Iran would help Netanyahu rally his people, distracting them from his current scandals by presenting an external threat to focus on.
However, Netanyahu risks escalating tensions in the region, particularly as Israeli fighter jets have attacked Syrian bases which they claim were used by Iranian forces as well. It would also put Israel and America at odds with Europe who have been desperately trying to convince Trump not to jeopardize the deal or to at least consider a re-negotiation. Their pleas were unlikely to work for long, especially with John Bolton in charge of National Security and Pompeo due to be sworn in, but it was worth a try.
Netanyahu has other ideas. He reckons Trump will follow through on his plan to paint Iran as the bad guy again and support Israeli attempts to stymie Iranian influence in the region. Still, given the president’s unpredictable behavior, it always helps to have a backup plan. The documents shown yesterday appear to be that plan.
The White House has eagerly jumped on this ‘new’ discovery but quickly amended its statement to reflect the fact that the information was already known before the deal. Clearly, someone was actually paying attention to what the Powerpoint actually said, beyond Netanyahu’s almost hilarious first slide, ‘IRAN LIED!’
When all is said and done, does Netanyahu actually want war with Iran? Hard to say, but if he doesn’t want an actual war, he has a funny way of preventing it. Trump killing the nuclear deal might cheer up Republicans and make Israelis happy, but it also puts Israel on a collision course with one of their biggest threats and would plunge an already fractured region into all-out war.
Meanwhile, North Korea watches from the sidelines and ponders whether they can really do business with their greatest threat.
Trump wants the deal gone too. He wants to tear it up, more to spit on Obama’s legacy than to protect America or bring peace to the Middle East. He has until May 12th to change his mind but Israel’s show-and-tell theatrics will have won the argument.