Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic – and dramatized – public announcement last Monday, during television prime time in Israel and in English for the benefit of viewers all around the world, that several weeks earlier Israel had managed to physically lay its hands on Iran’s “nuclear archive” was undoubtedly nothing short of... short of what?
Conclusive evidence that Iran had lied about its plans to acquire a nuclear arsenal? Proof that the Mossad has still “got it”? A smoking gun proving that Iran is in breach of its 2015 nuclear deal with the world powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? A brilliant strategy to ensure that Iran will never lay its hands on nuclear weapons? I believe the answer to the first two propositions is yes, and to the latter two – question marks at best, and a resounding no according to most observers.
Based on the reactions around the world, it would appear that no one was surprised by the news that Iran had lied. In fact, it would appear that everyone takes it for granted that Iran has consistently lied about its nuclear plans, just like everyone takes it for granted that Israel’s policy of ambiguity about its nuclear capability is a transparent cover for the existence of such a capability, and that over the years Israel has been anything but truthful about its “textile factory” in Dimona.
The fact that Netanyahu’s reputation among world leaders is rather dubious when it comes to telling the truth (see for example the embarrassing exchange between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and president Barack Obama on November 8, 2011), and that he has no qualms about telling lies and inventing facts when it serves his political purposes (the last time he did this was in his April 29 post accusing fans of the Arab football team Bnei Sahnin of not having respected the minute of silence in memory of the 10 victims of the recent flooding in the south) certainly contributed to the fact that nobody abroad seemed to fall off a chair upon being told that “Iran lied.”
In fact, it appears that the JCPOA was based on the assumption that Iran has lied in the past and continues to lie about its nuclear ambitions, and that under the circumstances it is better to have a faulty agreement with it on the issue than none at all.
As to the Mossad’s achievement, one cannot but marvel at it. I have tried to imagine how this highly complex operation was managed, and keep coming up with scenarios befitting science fiction. However, what I cannot understand is why it was necessary to brag about the feat in prime time, and thus increase Iran’s motivation to take revenge for its humiliation.
And why on earth did the Mossad’s current head, Yossi Cohen, support (according to reports) Netanyahu’s use of the fruits of his organization’s extraordinary achievement as material for an embarrassing stand-up show (not something democratic leaders usually engage in), rather than have the information gathered referred to US President Donald Trump and other relevant world leaders, by more conventional, conservative means? Cohen can also hardly be happy about his organization’s feat being used for Likud election purposes, though in today’s crazy reality, who knows?
Whether there was a “smoking gun” or not seems to have been answered by most observers – both in Israel and abroad – in the negative, and even Netanyahu himself did not claim that the information that Israel had obtained contains proof that Iran is in breach of the JCPOA.
According to a report broadcast by TV Channel 10 last Friday, a senior figure who was allegedly deeply involved in the operation reported that there is no smoking gun , but rather smoking cannons, and that the intent behind revealing the Iranian nuclear archive was not to prove Iran is in breach of the agreement, but rather to demonstrate how the political/military/security system in Iran has acted to conceal the fact that it has been doing so. The question is whether all the skeptical governments, who are being exposed to the full range of information retrieved from Iran, will be convinced that this is in fact the case, and if so, what they will do about it.
However, the most critical issue is what exactly Netanyahu believes will happen after President Trump declares next week (as he is expected to do) that the US is withdrawing from the JCPOA and reinstating sanctions on Iran – the attainment of which was apparently the main reason for his performance last Monday. Does Netanyahu really believe that there is any chance that Iran will simply raise its hands and surrender, or is he aware of the fact that such a scenario is quite unlikely, and that Iran is more likely to react by reverting to an active nuclear program – either overt or covert?
And what will Netanyahu do if the latter scenario is realized? Risk a full-scale war with Iran? His insistence on immediately being given the power to declare war in consultation with the Defense Minister, without the approval of the political-security cabinet – which neither the IDF nor the State Attorney seem happy about – is a clear indication that he does not exclude the possibility that he might actually decide to use his newly acquired power in the foreseeable future (presumably before the Attorney General decides whether or not to indict him).
But to return to more mundane matters. Netanyahu’s systematic disregard for all the ceremonial manifestations of mamlachtiut (statism) which do not focus on him personally repeated itself on Monday, when he decided to hold his stand-up show, which was preceded by a special government meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on the very day of the festive opening of the Knesset’s summer session, when the Knesset and its members are traditionally given full media attention.
Netanyahu brazenly stole the limelight, adding insult to injury by canceling his participation in the commemoration meeting for Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, held every year in the Knesset around the Iyar 10, on the basis of the Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl (the marking of his memory and his work) Law passed in 2004.
At first nobody complained, believing that Netanyahu’s conduct was dictated by an emergency that required immediate attention (some rumors had it that Netanyahu had actually decided to declare war on Iran).
But then it transpired that there was no out-of-the-ordinary emergency, and that Netanyahu simply has absolutely no respect for Knesset decorum and protocol (which he also demonstrated on the occasion of the lighting of the torches ceremony on Mount Herzl on the eve of Independence Day), which is designed to serve at least as a facade of mamlachtiyut.
I am sure Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein is furious, but neither he nor any of the other senior Likud MKs, nor any of the gatekeepers appointed by Netanyahu himself seem to have the guts to call Netanyahu to order.
And yes: Iran lied.