Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has long employed visual aids to drive home the dangers of Iran and the nuclear deal, even if those dangers are sometimes imagined.
In February, Mr. Netanyahu brandished part of a downed Iranian drone at a European security conference as a prop for his argument that Tehran and its proxies should not test his country’s resolve. In a 2012 speech to the United Nations, he used a much-ridiculed cartoon of a bomb to measure Iran’s nuclear capability, which, while advancing at the time, never reached the stage of producing a weapon.
So far, these theatrical displays have failed to stop the nuclear deal that the Israeli leader despises. But Mr. Netanyahu’s latest show and tell may have greater effect.
In a televised appearance on Monday, he presented images of thousands of nuclear-related documents stolen from Iran by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, along with a giant poster proclaiming “Iran lied.” He argued that the documents proved Iranian leaders were deceptive when they insisted their nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.
It didn’t matter that the data simply reinforced what the world has long known: Iran lied about its program and hid it for years. In fact, Mr. Netanyahu confirmed what American intelligence agencies revealed in 2007: Iran had suspended the active portion of a nuclear weapons program in 2003.
That program, along with related activities that continued after 2003, is a major reason the nuclear deal was struck in the first place and why its verification provisions are the most intrusive of any arms control agreement. It also explains why those provisions need to be retained, not jettisoned.
Mr. Netanyahu did not provide any evidence that Iran had violated the deal since it took effect in early 2016. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the deal, has repeatedly judged Iran to be in compliance with its commitments, as have top American security officials. Many of Israel’s past and present military and intelligence leaders also say the deal is effective and should be kept in force.
But Mr. Netanyahu remains intent on killing it. President Trump is widely expected to try to do just that on May 12 by not waiving sanctions as the deal requires. Mr. Netanyahu was not leaving such an outcome to chance, however.
Mr. Netanyahu made his televised plea — in a style and format that Mr. Trump seems to prefer — days after Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, made separate visits to Washington to implore Mr. Trump to adhere to the deal negotiated with Iran by Russia, China, Britain, the United States, France and Germany.
The goal seemed to be threefold: emphasize Iranian perfidies in an effort to get Mr. Trump, with Congress’s support, to scuttle the nuclear deal; signal to Tehran’s government Israel’s ability to penetrate its deepest secrets; and flaunt a major intelligence feat by Mossad.
No matter how disingenuous it was, Mr. Netanyahu’s data dump created the illusion of fresh incrimination, which the Trump White House indulged by issuing a statement that said Iran “has a robust clandestine nuclear weapons program.” Only later did the White House correct that to read “had” a weapons program.
Israel, the United States and gulf Arab states are right to be concerned about Iran’s growing role in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and other regional hot spots. Some Iranian leaders have called for Israel’s destruction, and the two adversaries have traded blows via proxies, cyberattacks and assassination squads since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The dangers of rising tensions in the Middle East were reaffirmed on Sunday when Israeli jets reportedly again struck Iranian targets in Syria, killing at least 16 people.
Those alarm bells make maintaining the nuclear deal even more important. Mr. Trump could work with the Europeans on a plan to address such concerns as constraining Tehran’s ballistic missile program, expanding inspections of nuclear facilities and curbing Iran’s regional adventurism. Iran isn’t the region’s only destabilizing force. Withdrawing from the nuclear deal, thus freeing Iran to resume its nuclear activities and possibly provoking other countries to follow suit, would only make things worse.
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