After Benjamin Netanyahu made public the information from secret Iranian files pertaining to Tehran’s efforts to obtain atomic weapons, defenders of the 2015 nuclear deal rushed to claim that he had revealed nothing new. This claim is absurd, writes Matthew Kroenig, a scholar of nuclear proliferation:
For Iran to go nuclear, it must complete three steps: (1) enrich significant quantities of uranium to weapons-grade levels, (2) develop a functioning nuclear warhead, (3) and possess a ballistic missile or other means to deliver the device to an enemy. Step 1 is the most difficult technical hurdle and the subject of the most contentious debates about the Iran nuclear deal. But all of the revelations in Netanyahu’s presentation were about Step 2. . . .
Most importantly, Netanyahu claimed that illegal nuclear-weaponization work continues to the present day. He said that “today, in 2018, this work is carried out by SPND, an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry.” His presentation claimed that the name of the program for Step 2 changed in 2003, but that substantive work has continued under a new label with the same lead scientist and some of the same staff under the euphemism of “scientific-knowhow development.” If true, this would be a clear violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [or JCPOA, as the deal is officially known], which explicitly prohibits work on nuclear-warhead design in Section C, Part 16 and Annex 1, Part T. This is a subject that deserves further scrutiny and on which the international community should press Iran.
Next, these revelations show that the Iran nuclear deal was consummated under false pretenses. A condition of the deal [was] Iran’s coming clean about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program. Netanyahu’s presentation shows that Iran did not come clean, but lied about many aspects of the PMD of its program in its reporting to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2015. . . .
Finally, this information helps to resolve a key debate between deal supporters and critics. Many supporters argued that Iran’s willingness to sign the JCPOA in 2015 reflected a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons altogether. Netanyahu’s briefing lends more support to critics who have argued all along that Iran is merely waiting out the clock in order to resume its march to the bomb. . . .
Although there is ample room for debate about how the U.S. and its allies should react to this knowledge, Kroenig concludes, the “only untenable conclusion is the widespread but incorrect hot take that Netanyahu’s briefing contains nothing new.”