1 May 2-18 — Moon of Alabama
The dog and pony show the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahoo provided yesterday (video, slideshow) was not based on material Israeli secret services acquired in Iran, but most likely from data Iran provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during the implementation period of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, pdf).
Ali Vaez @AliVaez – 18:06 UTC – 30 Apr 2018
5/ It appears to me that what Israel has done is that it has probably hacked the @iaeaorg and gathered some new details from what Iran responded to the agency to close the outstanding issues in 2015:
Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk – 00:14 UTC- 1 May 2018
Let’s go through Netanyahu’s dog-and-pony show. As you will see,
everything he said was already known to the IAEA and published in IAEA GOV/2015/68 (2015).
There is literally nothing new here and nothing that changes the wisdom of the JCPOA. 1/10
All the graphics, pictures and technical details Netanyahoo quoted were known to the IAEA and the negotiators of the agreement with Iran.
The tale the Israelis provide to explain how they got access to the files does not fit to the content of the “highly theatrical” presentation:
The senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a secret mission, said that Israel’s Mossad intelligence service discovered the warehouse in February 2016, and had the building under surveillance since then.
Mossad operatives broke into the building one night last January, removed the original documents and smuggled them back to Israel the same night, the official said.
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, a political scientist at Columbia University, points to this slide and satellite picture in Netanyahoo’s presentation:
The pictured slide claims that Iran moved files to that location in 2017. But the Israeli sources tell the NYT that the Mossad detected the warehouse in early 2016. Why, if no nuclear files were there at that time, did the Mossad put a random warehouse in Tehran under observation?
Most likely both claims are false.
The slide above shows a screenshot of a satellite picture of Shurabad, a warehousing district in south Tehran. The coordinates are 35.494257. N, 51.356535 E.
By comparing changes in the pictured buildings and a Google Earth historic timeline of satellite pictures Batmanghelidj finds that the picture Netanyahoo showed in his slide must have been taken between September 2014 and November 2015.
Other researchers confirm this analysis. Batmanghelidj notes that this time frame corresponds to the ‘implementation period’ of the JCPOA which began in January 2014 and ended in July 2015. During the period Iran provided, as agreed in the JCPOA, information about its nuclear research and gave IAEA inspectors access to all relevant locations and source material.
Israel claims it detected the archive site in early 2016. How does that fit with a satellite picture in the presentation that was then already replaced by newer ones and only available in a historic timeline view?
Presumably the satellite picture was part of the stash the Israelis acquired. But:
- Iran had no reason to give the IAEA such a picture. It gave the IAEA inspectors physical access to its sites and did not hide anything.
- The IAEA uses (pdf) Wikimapia, Google Earth and other open source tools to pursue and to document its work.
- It is thus very likely that the IAEA made that screenshot of a satellite picture at the time it inspected the site during the 2014 and 2015 period to document its work.
There are more inconsistencies in Netanyahoo’s stunt. One of his slides shows the potential position of a nuclear device in a missile as drawn in a well known 2003 sketch by Iranian scientists. He later claims that current Iranian missiles with a longer range could hold such a device.
That is wrong. The new Iranian missiles use a “baby bottle” nose cone that is too small to hold a device like the one researched by Iranian scientist 15 years ago. No current Iranian missile is capable of carrying such a nuclear device.
Following Netanyahoo’s scaremongering show the IAEA provided this statement:
In December 2015, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano presented the Final Assessment on past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme to the IAEA Board of Governors.
The Agency’s overall assessment was that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The Agency also assessed that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.
Based on the Director General’s report, the Board of Governors declared that its consideration of this issue was closed.
Iran did feasibility studies to assess what was needed to start a nuclear weapon development program. It never started such a program. The feasibility studies were related to a potential Iraqi nuclear weapon program which would have threatened Iran. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 the potential danger of a hostile Iraq dissolved and Iran shut down its studies. The shutdown in 2003 was confirmed in a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 and by the IAEA.
Netanyahoo presented old material of Iran’s old feasibility studies. Everything he presented was already well known and the technical details had long been discussed at length.
The claims of how and when the Israelis intelligence acquired the files do not make sense. The Mossad fairytale is that its agents broke into a warehouse building in Tehran, opened two dozen combination lock safes (slide 8 in the show), hauled out half a ton of materials and put those onto a plane to Israel in the very same night. Even Hollywood would reject such an implausible script.
The folders Netanyahoo presented were all empty.
The 2014/15 satellite picture used by Netanyahoo in his slides is a further indication that the material was not obtained in Iran but from a (digital) archive at the IAEA in Vienna. The “half a ton” material of “55,000 printed pages” and “183 CDs” that Netanyahoo implausibly claims was smuggled out of a “warehouse” in Tehran are most likely just a bunch of old data-files from the 2014/2015 IAEA investigation copied from a digital IAEA archive in Vienna. They likely fit on a SSD drive or a handful of USB sticks.
Netanyahoo presented nonsense and lied just as he always does.
But the show was not in vain. As for its purpose we again refer to Ali Vaez:
Ali Vaez @AliVaez – 18:06 UTC – 30 Apr 2018
9/9 So all is all, this is a pretty clear attempt at recycling old info to create new hype and push @realDonaldTrump to pull the plug on the #IranDeal and push Iran and the US into a military conflict to weaken and contain Iran. Read more here:
The show was coordinated with the White House and unnecessary to convince Trump who has, by all accounts, already decided to blow up the JCPOA deal. It might help though to increase public support for that decision.