Israeli media reported that Meir Ben-Shabbat, the country’s national-security adviser, spoke with his counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany on Israel’s new intelligence. The three countries, along with Russia, China, the U.S., and the European Union, were party to the nuclear agreement with Iran.
What Netanyahu was hoping to achieve with his presentation is not clear. His skepticism about Iran’s intentions and its commitment to the nuclear agreement is well known. Those hoping for a smoking gun of Iran’s cheating on the deal, in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program, were likely to be disappointed. The fact that Iran was at one point pursuing nuclear weapons will likely be a surprise to no one—and indeed was a rationale for concluding the nuclear agreement in the first place. Many of the slides Netanyahu showed pertained to the period from 1999 to 2003, during which the U.S. also cited evidence of an Iranian nuclear-weapons program, and after which a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate said the program had been shut down. His main evidence that Iran had cheated on the nuclear deal was that it had not fully disclosed the details of its past nuclear programs to the IAEA, as required by the nuclear deal—though the agreement did not tie that requirement to either implementation of the deal or sanctions relief.
Still, Netanyahu’s announcement could have dramatic consequences not only for the future of the nuclear deal, which is known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but also in stoking the already high tensions between Israel and Iran. Netanyahu made his comments hours after an unnamed military force conducted a strike on Iranian targets in Syria. Suspicion immediately fell on Israel, which has carried out dozens of similar strikes, and which neither confirms nor denies its activities inside Syria.
As to the Obama-era nuclear agreement itself, Donald Trump has called it “the worst deal in history.” His advisers, as well as his European allies, have hoped to persuade him to remain in the JCPOA, arguing that it is achieving what it is intended to do—prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But French President Emmanuel Macron told French media last week, after his visit to Washington, D.C., that he believed Trump “will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons.” Trump has until May 12 to decide. Netanyahu’s speech could help give him a rationale to withdraw—or, should he want to save the deal, give him wiggle room to reimpose nuclear sanctions without fully withdrawing.
European leaders have lobbied to preserve the JCPOA. They maintain that the agreement did not set out to curtail the Islamic Republic’s nonnuclear actions in the region—its ballistic-missile tests, involvement in the Syrian civil war and in Iraqi politics, role in the conflict in Yemen, and continued support for Shia proxies. These are all factors that opponents of the deal cite while pointing to the JCPOA’s weaknesses, and ones that Netanyahu did not cite in his speech.