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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Bibi's bust

by digby

Fred Kaplan at Slate took a look at Netanyahu's little power point pageant yesterday:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued the lamest critique of the Iran nuclear deal that one might imagine. Though his avowed aim was to convince President Trump to back out of the deal, he in fact unwittingly made a strong case to stay in.

In his Monday broadcast, which he recited in English and Hebrew, Netanyahu did publicize a remarkable heist by Israeli intelligence agencies—if his claims are true—of 55,000 pages of “files” and “archives” showing that 15 years ago, Iran did have a plan with an avowed intent to build nuclear weapons.

But did the prime minister think his viewers, at home and abroad, would glide over those key words—files and archive—or that they wouldn’t notice that the quotations from some of those files were dated 2003?

He said and showed nothing to suggest that the Iranians ever put their plan into motion or that they are violating the deal’s restrictions on nuclear activities now. In fact, at one point in his telecast, he acknowledged that Iran stopped the program—supporting the conclusion of a U.S National Intelligence Estimate, published in 2007, that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.

Netanyahu said the newly uncovered files indicate that Iranian officials have violated an article of the Iran deal requiring them to reveal their past plans or intentions to build nuclear weapons. Faced with the question, Iranian officials have denied that they ever had such intentions. If the files are authentic, they show that those denials are false. This is not a new point, but it is not trivial either, and the International Atomic Energy Agency should investigate the claims. (They may well find that Iran’s written plans about building nuclear weapons don’t amount to activities—nothing in Netanyahu’s presentation proves otherwise—and, therefore, don’t amount to a violation at all.)

However, the larger message of the archive—and Netanyahu’s briefing—is that the Iran nuclear deal, now more than ever, is worth preserving. Netanyahu pointed to documents suggesting that Iran had plans—he talked of secret documents, charts, presentations, and blueprints—for every aspect of designing, building, and testing nuclear weapons. What he neglected to point out is that the deal gives international inspectors highly intrusive powers to verify whether Iran is taking any steps to pursue those plans.

He points out that Mattis testified that the deal is much stronger than he had originally thought, so hopefully he's pushing from the other direction as we move toward the May 12th deadline:
Several allied leaders have urged Trump not to withdraw from the deal. Ironically, many Israeli security and intelligence officers have publicly said that the deal is better for Israel than the abandonment of the deal. Netanyahu, ignoring their analyses, is trying to whip up a frisson of alarm but without any substance.

It's pretty obvious that this was a coordinated information drop to give Trump an excuse to tear up the Iran deal. (Again, why they would want to do this at the same time they are trying to get North Korea to agree to sign a similar deal is beyond me. Clearly, a US guarantee isn't worth the paper it's printed on.)

But that may be giving them too much credit. The White House might actually have bought Netanyahu's spin --- or thought they could get away with pretending that Iran still has a nuclear program. You will not believe this one:

A one-letter mistake on an official White House statement led to consternation and questions about official US policy toward Iran on Monday, and a quiet correction did little to quell the matter.

In the written statement sent to reporters around 7:30 p.m. ET, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declared that newly unveiled Israeli intelligence proved "Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program."

The declaration flew in the face of American intelligence determinations, which found Tehran froze its program following the Obama-era agreement to lift sanctions in exchange for curtailing its nuclear ambitions.

"Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program," the online version read, reiterating a long-established US position.

The White House did not issue a formal correction, but did offer an explanation.

"The original White House statement included a clerical error, which we quickly detected and fixed," a National Security Council spokesman told CNN Tuesday. "To be clear, the United States has long known that Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program."

The snafu came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dramatically presented on Monday a hoard of Iranian documents that he said proved the regime lied about its pursuit of nuclear weapons.'

But analysts shrugged, saying Netanyahu's hour-long presentation in English offered little new information about Iran's program.

On Tuesday, the White House sought to bolster Netanyahu's position, saying the information "adds new and compelling details about these efforts."

Yeah, whatever.

Obviously, it was not a typo. They either believed, or were trying to clumsily suggest,that Iran has an ongoing nuclear program. I'd guess with Trump it was the first and Bolton it was the second. Either way, it is completely appalling. Wars start over stuff like this.