Israel says Iran spied on nuclear inspectors 20 years ago

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, May 15, 2022. Israel said on Tuesday May 31, 2022 it has proof that Iran stole classified documents from the the UN atomic energy agency nearly two decades ago and used them to conceal its nuclear activities from international inspectors. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)

JERUSALEM — Israel said Tuesday it had evidence that Iran stole classified documents from the UN’s atomic energy agency nearly two decades ago and used them to cover up its nuclear activities. to international inspectors.

The documents appear to show that Iran was spying on the inspectors and trying to anticipate and respond to any allegations of wrongdoing, but they do not appear to contain any evidence that it was pursuing nuclear weapons. The release came as Israel pressed the United States and other world powers not to reinstate a tattered nuclear deal with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett distributed the documents to the media. His office said they came from a trove of Iranian nuclear records seized by Israel in 2018 but had not previously been made public. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the documents last week, saying it had obtained them from “a Middle Eastern intelligence agency” in a country opposed to Iran’s nuclear program.

Bennett said he was sharing the documents in response to remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, who called the allegations “lies”. The foreign minister pointed to previous occasions when Israel issued dire warnings – which did not materialize – that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons.

“Spread lies? Come on. I hold the proof of your lies here in my hands,” Bennett said in a video released to media. The Persian-language documents, which could not immediately be authenticated, appear to be marked with official stamps, some bearing the word “secret”.

“After Iran stole classified documents from the UN atomic agency, Iran used that information to figure out what the atomic agency hoped to find, then created covers and hid evidence to escape to their nuclear probes,” Bennett said.

Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. US intelligence agencies, Western countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency have said Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003.

Israel sees Iran as its biggest threat and has violently opposed the 2015 nuclear deal signed by Iran and world powers, saying it does not contain enough safeguards to prevent Iran from developing weapons capability or to deal with other Iranian military threats in the region. He hailed the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally pull out of the deal, causing it to collapse, and opposes US efforts to revive the deal.

Israel is widely considered the only nuclear-weapon state in the Middle East. He has never publicly admitted to possessing such weapons.

One of the documents shared by Israel, an alleged Iranian memo from 2004, says “27 pages of classified IAEA documents” are being sent to prepare for an inspection of Iran’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. The reactor produces plutonium as a by-product, which can be used for nuclear weapons. The memo says the documents were “obtained using intelligence methods.”

Another purported Iranian intelligence memo, from 2006, offers a translation of a “highly confidential agency report” on a “green salt” project. The United States said the “Green Salt Project” was an Iranian plan to link various components of a nuclear weapons program, including uranium enrichment, high explosives testing and a re-entry vehicle of missiles.

In one set of documents, an Iranian official asks in handwritten notes that the liquidation date of a company that operated the Gachin uranium mine be changed from 2001 to 2003. The official writes that the atomic agency will ask questions about it, saying “we have to hurry.”

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed intelligence officials, said the change allowed Iran to tell the IAEA that work on the mine before 2003 was done by a private company under the auspices of the IAEA. Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, when in fact the mine was operated by the Ministry of Defense as part of a potential nuclear weapons program.

The Biden administration says it is making a last-ditch push for a deal that would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits and monitoring of its nuclear activities. The inspections would probably be carried out by the IAEA.

Since the deal failed, Iran has resumed key aspects of its nuclear program, including enriching uranium beyond the limits set out in the deal. Israel’s defense minister recently claimed that Iran was only weeks away from producing enough enriched uranium needed to make a bomb.

Rob Malley, the US envoy to the talks, admitted last week that the chances of success were “slim”. But he said the administration still believed Iran’s nuclear program posed less of a threat inside a deal than outside.

Yoel Guzansky, senior researcher and Iran expert at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies, said the leaked documents were likely aimed at influencing the United States as it tries to strike a new deal. But he said it probably wouldn’t have much of an impact.

“People understand what the threat from Iran is,” he said. “They understand that Iran has been lying, cheating and hiding for years. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone, so I don’t see any long-term effect of these documents.”

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