Must-Reading

This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

It’s only natural that an incoming administration is going to want to reverse some of the key policies of its predecessor. In the case of Iran, President-elect Joe Biden has even more of an interest in restoring the nuclear agreement, since he was a leading member of the team that put it into place.

But things have changed since 2016. There is more information available about Iran. For instance, there are the thousands of documents from the Iranian nuclear archives that Israel’s Mossad went to so much bother to obtain, and which should be “must” reading for foreign-policy makers in the new administration.

The material shows that Iran lied when it claimed that its nuclear program was being developed for civilian use. It also shows that it played hide-and-seek games with nuclear inspectors.

As the Washington Post reported, papers and photos from the archives shed light on Iranian experiments in making a form of uranium metal that can be used as a neutron initiator, while others described problems with uranium contamination outside the test chamber at the Parchin military base outside Tehran. Years later, when U.N. nuclear inspectors asked to inspect the Parchin test site, Iranian officials allowed the visit only after they had completely dismantled the test chamber, scraped away several tons of topsoil, cut down nearby trees and covered the entire area with fresh asphalt.

So much for the efficacy of international nuclear inspections.

The archival material also shows that Iran, even after halting much of the work on its nuclear program in 2003, preserved the intellectual core of the program, taking care to conceal experiments that might not be easily explained to outsiders.

“Let there be no mistake: the amount of personnel in the overt and covert parts will not decrease,” one Iranian official writes in a memo dated Sept. 3, 2003. “The structure will not become smaller, and every sub-project will supervise both its overt and covert parts.”

Granted, some of these documents go back many years, but as a senior Israeli official put it in a briefing to U.S. journalists in Tel Aviv: “They have a bearing on the future. It’s not a history lesson. They [the Iranians] have capabilities they can use in the future.”

The archives, added the official, “explain why the [nuclear deal] to us is worse than nothing, because it leaves key parts of the nuclear program unaddressed. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

The hope in Israel is that the incoming administration will proceed with caution and take its concerns — and those of the entire region — into account as it tries to put the pieces of a nuclear agreement with Iran back together again. The hope is that this administration, as opposed to Obama’s, will have a more realistic view of the Iranians and insist on the kind of safeguards that are needed in dealing with a rogue state.

It isn’t that Israel and its allies in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan — are opposed to a nuclear agreement, but that they know, better than anyone, what Iran’s leaders are capable of and, therefore, how tough an agreement must be to avert the threat of nuclear attack.