This article originated in VOA's Persian Service.
Israel has revealed what it says is a secret Iranian nuclear weapons development site as part of an ongoing campaign to boost international pressure on Iran to end its nuclear and regional ambitions.
In a televised presentation at Israel's Foreign Ministry on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed what he said were satellite images and map coordinates of the nuclear site in the central Iranian region of Abadeh. Netanyahu said the information came from nuclear archives that Israeli agents stole from Iran's capital, Tehran, in early 2018. He had previously revealed the existence of those archives.
In an aerial image of the Abadeh site dated in late June of this year, several small buildings were seen clustered in a mountainous region. Netanyahu then showed another image of the site with a late July date, with all of the buildings demolished. He said Iran cleared the site after realizing that Israel had learned of its existence.
Netanyahu said Iran used the site to conduct "experiments to develop nuclear weapons," without elaborating. Iran long has insisted its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
Netanyahu urged the international community to join U.S. President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran. "The only way to stop Iran's march to the bomb, and its aggression in the region, is pressure, pressure and more pressure," he said.
The possessor of REAL nukes cries wolf—on an ALLEGED “demolished" site in Iran— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 9, 2019
He & #B_Team just want a war, no matter innocent blood & another $7 TRILLION
Remember his “GUARANTEE” of "positive reverberations" in ’02?
This time, he assuredly won’t be on the sidelines watching. pic.twitter.com/LsR6PYkZZs
In a tweeted response to Netanyahu's presentation, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif referred to the newly-identified location as an "ALLEGED demolished site." Zarif also tried to undermine the Israeli leader's credibility, posting a video clip in which Netanyahu, in a previous role as an opposition leader, told a U.S. congressional hearing in the early 2000s that removing then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power would have "positive reverberations" in the region. A U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam in a 2003 invasion of Iraq, triggering a years-long conflict in that nation.
Zarif, whom the U.S. sanctioned in July, has used Twitter frequently to mock and criticize the U.S. and Israel for their punitive actions and statements toward Iran.
Andrea Stricker, a nonproliferation policy analyst at Washington's Institute for Science and International Security, told VOA Persian that her organization was examining the material presented by Netanyahu. "There's nothing so far to indicate that it's not credible, based on other information that Israel has released," she said.
Netanyahu gave his latest presentation eight days before his ruling nationalist Likud party faces voters in a parliamentary election in which he is seeking to extend his 10 years in power. Israel called the election after a previous vote in April ended inconclusively, with Netanyahu unable to secure a Knesset majority for a coalition government with smaller nationalist and religious allies.
Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz, who heads the center-left Blue and White party that is Likud's main election rival, criticized the timing of Netanyahu's presentation.
איראן גרעינית היא סכנה ליציבות האזור, במלחמה מולה אין קואליציה ואופוזיציה. תמוהה העובדה שהמידע מפורסם שעות בודדות לאחר קריסת חוק המצלמות. השימוש של נתניהו במידע ביטחוני רגיש לצורכי תעמולה מעיד על שיקול דעת לקוי. גם בימיו האחרונים כראש ממשלה נתניהו דואג רק לנתניהו.— בני גנץ - Benny Gantz (@gantzbe) September 9, 2019
Writing in Hebrew, Gantz agreed with Netanyahu that a nuclear-armed Iran is a danger to regional stability and said there is no coalition and opposition when it comes to Israel battling that threat.
Gantz, however, also said, "Netanyahu's use of sensitive security information for propaganda purposes indicates poor judgment. In his last days as prime minister, Netanyahu only cares about himself."
The Times of Israel news site quoted a diplomatic source who refuted the criticism that Netanyahu was making a revelation about Iran to seek a political boost one week before the election.
The news site quoted the diplomatic source as saying Israeli officials recommended that Netanyahu reveal the information immediately in response to a news conference by the International Atomic Energy Agency's acting director general, Cornel Feruta, earlier Monday.
Speaking to reporters in Vienna after returning from a visit to Iran a day earlier, Feruta said, "Time is of the essence" for Iran to answer IAEA questions about the "completeness of … declarations" regarding its nuclear-related commitments under a 2015 deal with world powers. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal, which offered Tehran international sanctions relief in return for constraints on its nuclear activities, last year, and unilaterally reimposed U.S. sanctions. He said the deal was not tough enough on Iran.
Feruta did not provide details of the IAEA's unanswered questions to Iran. But in a Sunday report, the Reuters news agency cited two unnamed diplomats as saying IAEA samples taken at another alleged Iranian nuclear site revealed by Netanyahu last year showed traces of uranium that Iran has yet to explain. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2018, Netanyahu called the Tehran site a secret atomic warehouse, alleging Iran had used it to house radioactive material that it later spread throughout the city.
Iranian officials have dismissed that revelation as false.
Stricker said Israel's latest revelation of an alleged secret Iranian nuclear site represents a failure of the IAEA's effort to determine the extent to which Iran progressed in developing its nuclear weapons program in the past. "After closing its investigation into possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program in 2015, new developments keep coming out, and the IAEA is forced to address them, or else it will have no credibility," she said.
In another development Monday, the IAEA said its inspectors confirmed that Iran is preparing to use more advanced centrifuges capable of refining uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons. In a statement, the IAEA said the equipment that Iran has "prepared for testing" includes several types of centrifuges prohibited under the 2015 nuclear deal. It said none of them had been tested by the end of its latest inspection on Sunday.
Iranian officials had previewed the move related to advanced centrifuges last week as their latest scaling back of compliance with the 2015 accord. They have said the scaling back is meant to pressure the deal's remaining signatories, particularly European Union powers, to compensate Tehran for the economic damage inflicted by intensifying U.S. sanctions.
Despite openly taking steps to violate limitations specified in the agreement, Iran has said it will continue to work with the IAEA to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities.