JERUSALEM - Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled what he claims was a previously unknown site connected to Iran's nuclear program from the early 2000s, in an announcement that political opponents have decried as election propaganda.
Speaking in Jerusalem Monday, eight days ahead of Israel's September 17 election, Netanyahu showed a satellite image of what he said was a site near the city of Abadeh, south of Isfahan where Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu did not give any time references in his short, televised, presentation, but a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office told CNN the site was operational from 2003, maybe earlier.
Information about the Abadeh site was contained in an archive of Iran's nuclear activities captured by Israeli agents in January 2018, Netanyahu said.
Once Iran realized that Israel had uncovered the site at Abadeh, "it destroyed the evidence, or at least tried to destroy the evidence," Netanyahu said.
The Israeli premier showed two, date-stamped, satellite images, one taken before, and one after, the alleged Iranian operation to clean up the site, which suggested it had taken place either in late June or early July of this year.
Netanyahu said the revelation was further proof that Iran lies about its nuclear program, and he appealed to world leaders to follow the United States in driving a tough line on sanctions.
"I call on the international continuity to wake up, to realize that Iran is systematically lying, and I call on the international community to join President Trump's sanctions to exert more pressure on 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.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Netanyahu, along with members of the Trump Administration, wanted a war and he accused the Israeli leader of hypocrisy, tweeting, "The possessor of REAL nukes cries wolf -- on an ALLEGED 'demolished' site in Iran."
Netanyahu's political rivals at home focused on his motives in releasing the news so close to the general election.
The main challenger, Benny Gantz, wrote on Twitter, "Netanyahu's use of sensitive information for propaganda indicates poor judgement. Even in his last days as Prime Minister, Netanyahu cares only about Netanyahu."
Netanyahu first unveiled detailed information about Iran's nuclear program in May 2018, making public for the first time a secret Israeli operation to remove documents and materials pertaining to the nuclear program from a warehouse in Tehran.
Commenting at the time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the information revealed by Netanyahu did not alter its 2015 assessment, made as part of its role in laying the groundwork for the Iran nuclear deal, that there was no evidence that Iran had carried out any activity related to the development of nuclear weapons after 2009.
Nuclear non-proliferation analyst Jeffrey Lewis told CNN he was underwhelmed by Netanyahu's latest presentation.
"Obviously, the big question here is: is this a covert site that Iran has continued to use while the deal has been in place? We were able to look at satellite photographs from about 2011 to the present and it just does not look like the site is very active at all. So, if you want to get to the point where this is a deal breaker, we are going to need a lot more than some broken down buildings," Lewis said.
Just days after Netanyahu spoke in May 2018, President Donald Trump announced the United States was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposing sanctions, calling it a "horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever, have been made."
That US policy switch set in motion a series of moves by Iran breaking its commitments to the deal, most recently an announcement that it was developing and installing centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, something the IAEA confirmed was taking place Monday.
The Agency also urged Iran Monday to "respond promptly to ... questions related to the completeness of Iran's safeguards declarations" which Netanyahu said was a reference to traces of uranium found at Turquzabad, a nuclear site undeclared to the IAEA but uncovered by Israel.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the year from which Israel said the Abadeh site was operational.
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