Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a press conference to reveal that his country’s intelligence services had spirited some 100,000 documents from a secured facility in Iran, which the Mossad apparently located in February of 2016, just a few weeks after the Iran Deal went into effect.
The documents go into unprecedented detail about the extent of Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts, and the cache’s mere existence raises serious questions about Tehran’s long-term intentions and the efficacy of International Atomic Energy monitoring of the country’s nuclear activities.
How, then, might supporters of the deal—including some of the men and women who helped sell the agreement to the American public while serving in Barack Obama’s administration—react to this inconvenient development? In more than one case, prominent defenders of the nuclear deal are arguing that the evidence is somehow being faked.
“After years of bashing US intelligence agencies for getting Iraq WMD wrong, Trump is now cooking up intel with the Israelis to push us closer to a conflict with Iran,” tweeted podcaster and former National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor, who of course offered zero evidence that anyone had “cooked” or fabricated anything. As with all conspiracy theories, this one is so enormous and so obvious that it requires no proof: The US-Israeli cooking of intel was, Vietor continued, “A scandal hiding in plain sight.”
Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, speculated that Israel “has probably hacked the @iaeaorg and gathered some new details from what Iran responded to the agency to close the outstanding issues in 2015.” We’re admittedly at a very early junction, but there is currently no evidence to support Vaez’s theory. If Israel really did hack the IAEA, then the cover story of pilfering physical documents from Tehran would be a perilously easy fiction to dispel, but Vaez wasn’t the only one in the pro-deal firmament who picked up on this unfounded conspiracy theory and ran with it. Trita Parsi, director of the National Iranian American Council, tweeted that “As others have suggested, seems like Mossad raided the IAEA and not Tehran.”
At least Vaez and Parsi’s wild speculations imply that it would be less than ideal, or at least awkward to explain, if Iran really did possess the documents that Israel claims to have stolen. Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, the Washington foundation instrumental in helping Obama sell the Iran deal to the public, took to Twitter to change the subject and go on the offensive. “May I just point out that #Israel had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it tried and failed to hide for years,” he wrote. “They repeatedly and consistently lied to US officials when confronted with the evidence.” The implicit two-wrongs-make-a-right attitude is an odd one for someone supposedly dedicated to arms control. But just in case the message was lost on anyone, Cirincione pointed out the world’s real nuclear villains: “Iran never actually built a single weapon, unlike Israel,” he tweeted. Reza Marashi, research director at NIAC and a former State Department staffer was even more direct: “Mike Pompeo in Israel to find out what our foreign policy will be,” he tweeted of the secretary of state’s visit to the country, bluntly suggesting that Israel controls the US government’s actions.
When not tweeting through the fever swamps, the deal’s supporters were busy getting basic facts wrong. Former Swedish prime minister and global elder statesman Carl Bildt, for example, tweeted that “Iran closed down nuclear weapons program in 2003;” a glance at the IAEA’s December 2015 assessment of Iran’s weaponization history reveals that work relevant to the development of a bomb continued until 2009. “[D]on’t give the mullahs an excuse to spin centrifuges again,” tweeted retired admiral and former State Department spokesperson John Kirby. It’s unclear who is spinning faster and harder: Kirby and the other Obama acolytes dedicated to defending the deal, or the 6,104 uranium enrichment centrifuges the agreement permits Iran to operate.
It is hard to emphasize how crucial this moment is for supporters of the agreement, and possibly for American diplomacy and world peace as well. The deal’s fans need to remain serious and focused: There is an argument, in fact a strong argument, for protecting the deal’s uranium and plutonium stockpiling limits, even if that comes at the expense of allowing Iran to test nuclear-capable ballistic missiles while maintaining an industrial-scale nuclear program with a potential weaponization component. The deal’s defenders—again, including Obama administration officials like Vietor—are instead entertaining vile conspiracy theories. When the reaction of our so-called experts is to deny an actual Iranian conspiracy by accusing Israel of fake ones, we are all in deep trouble.