In a prime-time press conference from Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israeli intelligence had smuggled a cache of evidence out of Iran. Dubbed Iran's atomic archive, the 100,000 files allegedly show that Tehran sought to conceal a nuclear weapons program. Throughout his presentation, Netanyahu argued that Iran lied to the international community — and to watchdogs from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — about the existence of a secret nuclear weapons program and sensitive research that Iran held on to for future use.
While much of what Netanyahu presented has been said before — Israel and some in the United States have accused Iran of nuclear deception numerous times — the Israeli premier argued that Iran violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, by failing to come clean during 2015 talks with the IAEA. Just days before a May 12 deadline for the United States to issue sanctions waivers to Iran as part of the JCPOA, Netanyahu's presentation sought to discredit Iran as a negotiating partner in the eyes of the international community.
As the United States narrows in on strategies to target and contain Iran's regional activities, Washington's crosshairs are focused more and more on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal. The United States is trying to negotiate stronger measures to supplement the deal — thanks in part to lobbying efforts from regional allies such as Israel — but impinging on the nuclear deal will not halt Iran's activity. Rather, as Stratfor's Second-Quarter Forecast said, the uncertainty surrounding the nuclear deal will reaffirm Tehran's desire for a robust defense policy that includes the very activities fueling U.S. fears: ballistic missile development, covert operations and support for regional militias.
European countries, including France and Germany, recently voiced their concerns about the full extent of Iran's activities, but continue to support the JCPOA as the best framework for countering Iran's nuclear ambitions. However, Israel is pressuring the European Union to abandon the nuclear deal and potentially even reinstate the sanctions the deal lifted. To ensure whatever sanctions levied against it are ineffective, Iran is seeking to keep the European Union and the United States from uniting to throw their combined weight behind them. But Netanyahu is hoping that his portrayal of Iran as a guilty party will galvanize opposition to Iran in the West.
Netanyahu's presentation was partially designed to convince countries in the European Union that the JCPOA is insufficient, but he may not need to. Netanyahu's message was coordinated with the United States ahead of time, indicating an increasingly clear alignment between Israel and the White House. Based on their rhetoric, both are growing convinced about the benefits of abandoning the JCPOA and doubling down on efforts to counter Iran's regional activities.
Here's what we're watching for moving forward:
- The European Union may be willing to meet U.S. demands by forming a supplemental agreement that imposes sanctions designed to stop Iran's regional activities and ballistic missile program. But, even if the United States withdraws from the original agreement on the JCPOA by refusing to approve sanctions waivers on May 12, the European Union is unlikely to reissue sanctions lifted by the JCPOA without clear proof that Iran is not holding up its side of the bargain.
- Israel says it will submit its new intelligence to the IAEA. If the files contain concrete proof, the IAEA could have a legitimate reason to request access to inspect new sites, potentially even military sites not originally included in the JCPOA. If Iran is found in violation of the JCPOA, the United States will have an excuse to leave the deal, which the current administration believe is insufficient to contain the full spectrum of Iran's regional activities.
- Recent increased Israeli airstrikes against Iranian assets in Syria suggest that Israel is fully willing to challenge Iran militarily. As it pursues strategies to counter Iran's military and nuclear ambitions, Israel will seek an even stronger U.S. backing.
- The United States could seek to reinstate sanctions on Iran's banking sector and central bank, which could force European and Asian consumers to reduce imports of Iranian oil. A decline in Iranian oil exports would exacerbate the pain Iranian citizens are already feeling as a result of currency-related and economic problems.