Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to show the world that he can present any old codswallop and Donald Trump will back him. The more stupid the graphics or poverty of evidence the better.
The message? Back off, you defenders of the July 2015 nuclear deal, because it’s not really about the agreement. It’s about Syria and regional power.
1. Bibi provided nothing new and certainly nothing that would challenge 10 consecutive International Atomic Energy Agency reports confirming Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In many ways, this was amuch more comical performance than his widely-mocked presentation at the UN — the “Cartoon Bomb” display — in September 2012. At least that had some correct information about current Iranian enrichment activities.
2. Israeli intelligence agencies presumably have found some of the rudimentary plans for weaponization that existed before 2003: a few drawings bought off the black market, rough plans for warheads, etc. All of this is widely known to the international community and simply confirm that Iran ended these activities 15 years ago. So Netanyahu has inadvertently made a good case for the JCPOA.
3. Israel has taken advantage of Iranian stubbornness. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Iran still refuses to accept that it ever considered developing nuclear weapons. So Netanyahu is technically right that they are still lying.
4. It would have been wiser for Iran to admit to the analysis presented in the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate. Tehran had some basic plans, and that was not unreasonable at the time — given the West believed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, a man with a record of killing 100,000s of Iranians (including with weapons of mass destruction), was building nukes. But when the US removed the threat of Saddam, Iran permanently shelved their activities.
5. One of the key reasons Iran could not do this was because it would expose the deception of several fatwas the Supreme Leader had issued against the acquisition and development of nukes. This was a cornerstone of Iran’s political defense, and undermining it would compromise Ayatollah Khamenei’s authority. Yet, in the context of Iran’s dispute with the West, it was an error because nobody put any stock in the fatwas.
6. Netanyahu’s presentation was ridiculous because his main audience is a ridiculous man: Donald Trump. This was not supposed to be Adlai Stevenson at the UN in 1962, revealing Soviet missiles in Cuba.
7. But there are other audiences. The presentation was made the day after Israel killed Iranians in missile strikes in Syria. Israel is likely ramping up its proxy war with Iran there — probably because the Assad regime feels confident enough to launch an offensive in the south, placing Hezbollah against the Golan Heights and Jordan, a major strategic gain for Iran.
This is unacceptable to Israel, and Netanyahu is saying that Israeli security is not a matter in which anyone else — such as the European Union and the European signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal — gets a say.
Netanyahu knows Trump will back his analysis, however comical, and he wants the world to know it. Meanwhile, he presents a decision for Vladimir Putin: will the Russian leader green-light an Assad regime offensive in the south?