Israel has just pulled off a spectacular covert mission to extract from a warehouse in southern Tehran 55,000 pages and 183 CDs of secret Iranian files detailing that country’s nuclear program.
Within the thousands of seized documents is proof that the Islamic Republic lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the existence of a nuclear-weapons program and hid its immense archive of nuclear proficiency, in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The documents explicitly reveal Tehran’s goal of developing five warheads, each with 10 kilotons yield of TNT, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as “five Hiroshima bombs to be put on ballistic missiles.”
The Israeli decision to publicize its exploits and findings serves several purposes: it bolsters U.S. President Trump’s position to fix or nix the JCPOA by May 12; it provides clear evidence of Iranian mendacity to the European countries with which Trump is now negotiating; it signals that the IAEA has insufficiently investigated Iran’s nuclear activities — due in part to weaknesses of the JCPOA; and it deals a profound blow to Iran’s morale to have been penetrated on its own turf by the Israelis.
Those who dismiss the significance of the findings from the Iranian documents have predominantly advanced one of two arguments. Neither is compelling.
The first is a claim that everyone already knew Tehran had been evasive about its nuclear ambitions. Indeed, they explained, this is precisely why the nuclear deal was initiated in the first place. Tehran’s lies would be rendered moot by developing a regime of inspections; the international community would not have to trust Iran’s words but instead rely on the verification process.
If only this were true. The flaws of the JCPOA are too vast, the loopholes too wide, to prevent or catch all Iranian nuclear misbehaviour. The terms of the JCPOA did not create the desired paradigm of “verify then trust” but of “trust and verify only to the extent the Iranians allow it.”
For example, the nuclear deal does not guarantee physical inspections of military sites even if the IAEA believes Iran is conducting weaponization activities. Before the announcement of the nuclear agreement, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated, “inspection of our military sites is out of the question.” And after the JCPOA was announced, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pronounced that Iran had accomplished its objective of denying IAEA access to military facilities.
In September 2015, IAEA director general Yukiya Amano visited the Parchin military base. Rather than conduct on-site inspections with the physical presence of inspectors at the location, which is the IAEA’s standard practice, Iranian inspectors took environmental samples while IAEA inspectors remotely monitored.
Even so, the environmental samples from Parchin revealed the existence of man-made uranium particles. William Tobey, former deputy administrator for defence nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration, explained that these particles are “prima facie evidence” of undeclared nuclear material in Iran and that a “larger quantity of uranium left them behind.” Yet the IAEA did not insist on a followup inspection.
The JCPOA also creates a minimum of a 24-day delay between a formal IAEA request to access a suspicious site and the date Iran must allow access, which is more than enough time, according to nuclear experts, to destroy or hide evidence.
The second argument plays down the Israeli findings by claiming that while the Iranians may have lied about their past nuclear activities, the documents fail to demonstrate that Iran has broken the terms of the JCPOA since it came into effect.
But consider this: are deals entered into under false pretences usually considered valid? Under Canadian law, citizens convicted of even the most serious offences will not have their citizenship stripped, while someone who is found to have withheld information or to have made false statements in his/her application to become a citizen can have that citizenship revoked. What matters more to Canadian authorities is attaining that citizenship truthfully, irrespective of what crimes are committed later. This same principle should be applied in holding Iran to account for entering into the nuclear deal under false pretences. Clause 14 of the JCPOA, which required Iran to “address past and present issues of concern relating to its nuclear programme,” was a clear condition on which the deal was premised.
As Parliament recently wrapped up its Iran Accountability Week, which shines a spotlight on Iranian human-rights abuses and terrorist activities, it is an opportune time for Ottawa to reflect on the totality of Iranian malfeasance and redouble its commitment to vigilance.
Sheryl Saperia is director of policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.