Someone pulled a Snowden this week, revealing hundreds of classified documents from the world's intelligence community. Among them is an incredibly embarrassing brief sent from Israel's Mossad to South African intelligence officers in late 2012 laying out the intelligence agency's belief that Iran was nowhere near building a nuclear weapon. From The Guardian, which received some of the documents:
Even though Iran has accumulated enough 5% enriched uranium for several bombs, and has enriched some of it to 20%, it does not appear to be ready to enrich it to higher level. It is allocating some of it to produce nuclear fuel for the TRB, and the amount of 20% enriched uranium is therefore not increasing."
That's almost exactly the same time when Israeli prime minister and ultra-hawk Benjamin Netanyahu was cavorting around the UN with a picture of a cartoon bomb, warning everyone in sight that an ayatollah-ordered nuclear Holocaust could be just a few short weeks away.
Here are the three major takeaways you should carry away from this little slice of fried gold:
Bibi's full of shit
In September 2012, Netanyahu was busy arguing in front of the entire UN that Iran was "a few months, possibly weeks" away from having enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon, using the ludicrous "chart" above to make his point.
But the Mossad cable, sent just weeks later, is pretty clear on the fact that Iran did not appear to be currently producing any weapons-grade material. Instead, it concludes,
"Bottom line: though Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons, it is working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment, reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given."
These are conflicting statements. While Netanyahu was busy making the case that Iran was on the very precipice of becoming a nuclear superpower, his own intelligence services were providing other countries with intelligence saying it had only laid the groundwork for a future nuclear program. To their best knowledge, the country didn't have any weapons-grade enriched uranium, and wasn't producing any. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that Bibi was lying, despite his insistence that there was no contradiction in his and his intelligence service's opinions. The best you can say about this is that it's terribly suspicious.
Bibi can't be trusted
While Netanyahu hasn't given us any recent evidence that he's a particularly trustworthy leader (his ongoing attempt to disrupt sensitive U.S. negotiations with Iran and embarrass Obama by rallying the new GOP Congress for war is particularly loathsome), the report confirms that there's significant reason to be doubtful Netanyahu is acting in good faith while pursuing his foreign policy agenda. He's quite possibly somewhat obsessed with the notion that Iran poses a Holocaust-scale threat to Israeli citizens, and is definitely a true believer that an aggressive approach to the Iranian nuclear problem is the only solution. He's also willing to resort to unsavory tactics like lying, bullying and sabotaging relations with the U.S. to curry favor with far-right Republicans to increase the odds that his agenda gets carried out.
Cynicism on this scale is nothing new to international politics, but it's deeply concerning that Netanyahu feels so comfortable pulling these tricks on Israel's most important ally. Not only does this condescending attitude infuriate the White House and Democrats, it's deeply damaged efforts to thwart any potential Iranian nuclear program. A deal is much harder if no one can convince Iran that Israel won't try to subsequently sabotage it, simply because Israel's right wing is too petulant to accept any resolution that doesn't fit their preconceived notions.
And no, President Obama's supposed lack of foreign policy acumen isn't responsible for this downward spiral. Netanyahu had toxic relations with the Clinton White House, too. Haaretznotes how former State Department negotiatior Aaron David Miller described President Clinton's reaction to Bibi's lecturing during their first 1996 meeting: "Who the fuck does he think he is? Who's the fucking superpower here?"
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart similarly told author Clayton Swisher of his impression that Netanyahu was "one of the most obnoxious individuals you're going to come into -- just a liar and a cheat. He could open his mouth and you could have no confidence that anything that came out of it was the truth."
Aside from damaging negotiations with Palestinian representatives with a combination of bluster and disrespect, Lockhart wrote that in 1998 Netanyahu "tried the last-minute ploy of conditioning the Israeli government's acceptance of the Wye River Agreement on Clinton's release of convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard." (Before he was caught, Pollard had two jobs -- working as a civilian intelligence analyst and selling classified information to Mossad.) "Clinton nearly succumbed to Netanyahu's blackmail demands until George Tenet, the director of the CIA, threatened to resign," Lockhart said that Netanyahu later "put egg on Clinton's face and on the entire U.S.-Israeli 'special relationship' by continuing to renege on Israel's commitments to withdraw from occupied Palestinian land."
Bibi wants to bomb Iran and damn what anyone else says
Netanyahu has given many ultimata on the Iranian nuclear program, principally using "red line" rhetoric to express his eagerness to follow through on his threats with airstrikes. In 2012, he was one of the only people seriously suggesting that Iran had 70% enriched uranium, and the leaked documents show that he didn't even have the support of his own intelligence community when saying so.
Basically, this means that Netanyahu's "red line" isn't necessarily based in reality. His rhetoric on Iran is similarly escalating. Just a decade ago, President Bush had a very similar perspective on the nonexistent Iraq/al-Qaeda link.
Fortunately, Bibi is constrained by reality in a way Bush never was. Israel is definitely not in a position to carry out a unilateral strike and understands how livid the White House would become at the first serious suggestion that the IDF would do so. Instead, Netanyahu wants the U.S. to do it for them. That's why he's galavanting about attempting to disrupt Obama's largely successful negotiations. He probably won't succeed, for which Americans, Israelis and Iranians alike should be thankful. Like a drunk guy with a machine gun, an unconstrained Bibi would keep on firing from the hip until he hits something he really regrets.
If we're lucky, it might even be hugely embarrassing for the prime minister right on the eve of Israeli elections. It would be a well-deserved comeuppance for a reckless world leader increasingly looking like a real chickenshit.