Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu defends Iran nuclear claims in face of criticism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered a robust defense Tuesday of a dramatic presentation in which he accused Iran of “brazenly lying” over its nuclear ambitions, after claims that he had revealed nothing new.

Netanyahu told CNN’s “New Day” that a trove of documents, which he revealed in a TV address on Monday night, showed Iran had no intention of sticking to its commitments in the 2015 deal brokered with the international community.

“They don’t want the world to know what I showed the world yesterday,” Netanyahu said.

In his interview, Netanyahu repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether Israel had its own nuclear weapons capability, and insisted that he did not seek a military confrontation with Iran. “Nobody is seeking that kind of development,” he said.

Since his prime-time presentation on Monday night, delivered in English, Netanyahu has faced accusations that it revealed little that was not already known by the international community.

Asked on “New Day” if any of the information presented by Netanyahu was new, former CIA and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden said: “No, it’s not.”

“To the best of my knowledge, not getting the briefings out of the government, I believe this is fundamentally old news,” he added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, judged in 2015 that there was no evidence that Iran carried out any activity related to the development of nuclear weapons after 2009.

Key documents pertaining to Iran’s nuclear development program, cited by Netanyahu on Monday, were acquired by the IAEA as early as 2005. A number of documents highlighted by the Israeli Prime Minister were made public in a 2011 report.

The IAEA reiterated its position on Iran’s nuclear program on Tuesday. Spokesman Fredrik Dahl told CNN that there were “no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.”

Asked about the IAEA’s conclusion on CNN’s “New Day,” Netanyahu replied: “No one had better intelligence on Iran than Israel.”

Netanyahu insisted the documents, obtained by Israeli intelligence, provided a wealth of new information. “When we got this trove of 100,000 documents, we learned so many things we didn’t know. We’re still learning them,” he said.

“We learned an enormous amount about Iran’s secret nuclear program. Now, the deal that everybody is talking about was premised on the fact that Iran had no such material. But Iran bothered, took enormous pains after the nuclear deal and before but especially after to hide this information. It’s like an arsenal of knowledge.”

Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami described Netanyahu’s Monday presentation as a “propaganda show” and said the allegations it contained were “baseless and unfounded.”

Netanyahu’s presentation came ahead of a May 12 deadline by which US President Donald Trump must decide whether to continue waiving sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Trump welcomed Netanyahu’s presentation Monday, claiming it showed that he was “100% right” in criticizing the 2015 pact. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he believed the documents were authentic and said they contained new information that was being analyzed.

When asked about whether pulling out of the Iran agreement would damage US relations with Europe, Pompeo said the United States was “working diligently to fix this thing” with its European allies.

In his CNN interview Tuesday, Netanyahu refused to discuss Israel’s own nuclear capabilities, despite being pressed repeatedly by interviewer Chris Cuomo. “One thing is clear, Israel is not threatening the annihilation of any country,” Netanyahu said.

Instead, he insisted the Iran deal had prompted other countries to seek nuclear weapons.

“It’s interesting that the nuclear arms race that I predicted would unfold once this deal was signed because everybody knew that they were just kicking the can forward for a few years and as time passes Iran will get a nuclear arsenal,” he added.

“Now you hear other countries in the region saying we want nuclear weapons, too.”