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Israel reveals Iranian nuclear site but Trump could meet Rouhani  

What Happened? Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday revealed details of a former Iranian nuclear site that he said was used to develop nuclear weapons near Abadeh, south of Isfahan.

  • Despite Netanyahu’s claims, President Donald Trump said yesterday that a meeting with the Iranian President ‘could happen’ at the UN General Assembly later this month.
  • Netanyahu made his announcement in a live TV statement timed for the early evening news. He said the site was exposed 18 months ago and destroyed by Iran between June and July this year. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found traces of uranium hidden at the site.
  • He showed before and after satellite images and explained: “When Iran realised that we uncovered the site… they destroyed the site. They just wiped it out. Here they conducted nuclear experiments for nuclear weapons. This is the site after they understood that we were on to them. They destroyed the evidence or at least tried to destroy the evidence.”
  • The IAEA confirmed yesterday that Iran has moved ahead with preparations to use more advanced centrifuges in direct violation of the 2015 JCPOA Iran nuclear deal. Iran announced last week that it would begin research on advanced IR-6 centrifuges. A centrifuge is a device that enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. Under the JCPOA, Iran has been limited to operating older-model IR-1 centrifuges. The nuclear deal prohibits Iran from using more advanced IR-6 centrifuges until 2023.
  • Netanyahu concluded by saying “I call on the international community to wake up, to realise that Iran is systematically lying, and I call on the international community to join President Trump’s sanctions to exert more pressure on Iran.”

Context:Until now Netanyahu had reaped significant rewards from his close relationship with President Trump.

  • The Trump administration shared Netanyahu’s analysis of Iranian intent and withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018, renewed sanctions on Iran and is increasingly critical of Iran’s ballistic missile programme and Iranian support for Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria.
  • President Hassan Rouhani has said Iran will not talk to the US until they lift sanctions but Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said last week more sanctions against Iran were coming and the US was committed to its campaign of “maximum pressure.”
  • In the domestic political context Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid said: “Netanyahu is again using intelligence information for his campaign propaganda. This is terrible national irresponsibility. Iranian nukes cannot be used as campaign antics.” Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said security officials had recommended that Netanyahu deliver his statement immediately after the IAEA report was released.”

Looking ahead

  • Netanyahu is expected to travel to Moscow later this week to discuss Iran, among other issues, with President Vladimir Putin.
  • The UN General Assembly is scheduled to take place from 17-30 September and a meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani is a possibility despite the Iranian demand of no talks without a lifting of US sanctions.
  • In contrast to previous years, Israeli media have reported that Israel’s Prime Minister will not attend the UN General Assembly and will instead send his Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz. Despite that report, were Netanyahu to win the September 17 election it would be surprising if he passed up the opportunity to celebrate his victory by meeting with world leaders in New York.