Iran nuclear deal: the only show in town

Binyamin Netanyahu has inadvertently shown why the agreement should be honoured

In his latest, theatrical attempt to persuade Donald Trump to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has in fact underlined precisely why the signatories should honour the agreement.

At a special briefing in Tel Aviv on Monday, Netanyahu dramatically drew back a curtain to reveal what he said were tens of thousands of files and discs obtained by Israeli agents in an overnight raid on a Tehran warehouse in January. The trove, he said, constituted a secret archive that proved the Islamic Republic had lied about its nuclear programme. Contrary to Tehran’s public protestations, Netanyahu said, the files confirmed Iran had a clandestine weapons programme up to the early 2000s.

Strip away Netanyahu's showmanship, however, and these supposed revelations tell us very little we did not already know. In 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency publicised a similar haul of Iranian documents. Indeed, it was precisely because they believed Iran to be developing a nuclear weapons programme that George W Bush and Barack Obama sought to stop it, and persuaded the US, Russia, China, France, the UK, Germany and the EU to sign the nuclear deal, with its intrusive inspections provisions, in 2015. Netanyahu's presentation focused on the period 1999-2003, but he provided no evidence that any such programme had continued after the nuclear deal was agreed. Nor did he say the deal was not working. To have done so would have contradicted western intelligence agencies.

In reality, the presentation had an intended audience of one. Trump must decide by May 12th whether to continue to waive statutory sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear deal. He has come under pressure from France, Germany and other allies not to renege on the deal, and Netanyahu’s performance appears to have been a final push to persuade the US president to abandon a deal he has long opposed. But by appearing to underline that Iran has discontinued its weapons programme since signing the deal, Netanyahu has made a strong case for keeping faith with it.