Tzvi Fleischer and AIJAC staff
In his declaration that the US would withdraw from the 2015 deal with Iran, aka The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), US President Donald Trump stated that the information about Iran that Israel uncovered in January and publicly revealed on April 30 is “conclusively showing the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons”.
Yet, many reactions to the Israeli exposure of Iran’s secret nuclear archive were much colder. Supporters of the JCPOA spoke in an almost unanimous voice, repeating the same messages. “There is nothing new here”, they concluded. “We knew all along Iran was lying and that it had a nuclear weapons program”, explained US and European politicians involved in the negotiations over the agreement. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said of the Israeli revelations that the deal “was put in place exactly because there was no trust between the parties; otherwise we would not have required a nuclear deal to be put in place.”
Leading non-proliferation analysts soon followed suit. Mark Fitzpatrick claimed that “all of it was information that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already had and has already commented on”.
Jeffrey Lewis detailed in his blog how many of the details Netanyahu was pointing to in his presentation were already noted in the IAEA’s 2015 final assessment of the nuclear activities in Iran. That report provided a stamp of approval for the JCPOA to go ahead. Some argued that the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, was pressured by Obama Administration officials at the time not to offend the Iranians and to make sure his report had enough positive language in it to pass the bar for the deal to come into force.
But there is a major problem with the automatic responses, playing down the importance of material obtained by the Mossad from the heart of Teheran. It is simply not true that Israel found nothing new in Teheran’s nuclear archive.
The 183 discs containing 55,000 documents and the further 55,000 hardcopy pages contained concrete evidence that Iran has lied in the past, that it is lying now, and that it has been breaching the agreement that it has been clinging to so firmly. Moreover, former weapons inspectors confirm that this archive contains significant new revelations not previously known to weapons inspectors or canvassed in IAEA reports.
Iran’s nuclear weapons program kept alive
Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Olli Heinonen, was among the first to define the material Israel exposed as a “jackpot”. While he said he had seen some of the documents revealed by Israel before, he added that “there was also new information.”
Another former UN weapons inspector and nuclear physicist, David Albright – who today heads the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, was briefed by the Israelis on the information uncovered. In a Wall Street Journal podcast interview, he detailed the new revelations in Iran’s nuclear archives.
Firstly, he noted, it showed Iran has hidden a “sleeping” nuclear weapons program. This “stewardship program” was created after 2003, when the AMAD project designed to develop nuclear weapons stopped being active. The purpose of this new program was to keep alive capabilities and know-how to manufacture the bomb, including by assigning people with relevant expertise scientific work to keep their knowledge up to date for that purpose. This program went underground and was maintained so it can “pop up” again at will to quickly resume efforts to produce nuclear weapons.
This means that Iran did not actually denuclearise, as it had promised to do under the JCPOA, he suggested. The archive Israel uncovered, Albright argued, was part of this “stewardship program.” When South Africa, for example, relinquished its atomic bomb program they handed over all relevant documents to UN officials, who reviewed and then burnt them. Teheran, on the other hand, has kept its nuclear documents, while going to considerable lengths to conceal them from inspectors, thus maintaining the recipe for resumption of work on the nuclear bomb.
The archive also provides an almost full picture of the nuclear weapons program that operated between 1999 and 2003. The West and the IAEA had partial information (“40 per cent”, says Albright) about it up until now. “What the Israelis [have brought] is a complete picture. It’s a smoking gun. It’s undeniable”, stipulates Albright.
Iran breached the JCPOA
Albright also argued that the maintenance of the archive “belittles the value of the JCPOA” because of the “sunset clause” in that agreement. These elements of the agreement sees almost all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme gradually lifted beginning in 2025, and then completely removed after 2030.
Moreover, Albright says, contrary to claims that it does not contain a ‘smoking gun’, the maintenance of the archive is itself actually evidence that Iran has directly breached the agreement.
First, because “there is language in the JCPOA about being exclusively for peaceful use. It’s hard to see how this [the archive] is consistent with this pledge.”
In addition, Section T of the JCPOA is devoted to banning nuclear weapons related activities. The JCPOA requires “that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons”. By putting Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizade, the former head of the weapons project (AMAD), in charge of the clandestine “stewardship” program, this becomes an ongoing activity program “contributing to nuclear weapons” and hence, a violation of Section T, Albright added.
Finally, the JCPOA requires Iran to come clean about all aspects of its past atomic work, including declaring all equipment used for it and having it inspected. But photos and documents in the archives prove the Iranians have not done so, Albright pointed out: “What you have in the new information acquired by the Israelis is a bunch of other equipment that would be subject to section T that was actually used in a nuclear weapons development program. So, where is it now?”. Heinonen has also raised the issue of the previously unknown nuclear equipment discovered by Israel saying, “They must have manufactured pieces of equipment in Iran. Where are those pieces? Who is keeping them?”
What conclusions can be drawn from all of this? Iran lied – and while yes, pretty much everyone may have known this, many supporters of the JCPOA insisted on acting as if Iran is “innocent until proven guilty”, allowing it to be largely treated by the IAEA just like any other state. Israel has now proved Iran’s guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Further, the information collected by Israel is also a conclusive evidence that Teheran has kept alive its efforts to achieve a nuclear bomb arsenal, and held onto plans for bomb designs, records of work it has done fashioning nuclear cores for bombs, as well as plans to miniaturise its bombs and place them in warheads on its long-range missiles.
Trump’s decision to abandon the deal in its current format makes a great deal more sense when understanding that this archive proves that Iran is a country with zero credibility when it comes to upholding its side of bargains, and has been violating key provisions of the JCPOA deal, both in spirit and in letter, from the very beginning.
AIJAC thanks Dr. Ran Porat from Monash University for his kind assistance with research for this blog.