Analysis

Netanyahu Turns Intelligence Theater Into Unprecedented Force

In the premier's practiced hands, the intelligence he presented to prove Tehran has lied about its nuclear program became theater – and the theater turned into unprecedentedly powerful intelligence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents material on Iranian nuclear weapons development during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Monday, April 30 2018.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

An entire country was convinced that on Monday at 8 P.M. – when else? – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was about to declare war on Iran. The security cabinet meeting called without advance notice in the Kirya defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, the cancellation of Netanyahu’s speech in the Knesset, the images of cabinet members with grave looks on their faces and, of course, the rumor mill churning on the internet – all this stretched everyone’s nerves to the limit.

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What we got was a jaw-dropping presentation. An intelligence hammer weighing half a ton, the total weight of all the incriminating files and CDs about the Iranian nuclear program that were obtained by our “finest boys,” God knows how.

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This was not a day the regime in Tehran will enjoy remembering. The previous night, on Sunday, according to The New York Times, 200 of their missiles were destroyed in Syria. Then Monday night they were exposed in all their treachery by the person who until now had never managed to achieve very much in the sometimes exhausting campaign he'd been conducting against the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

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The shelves that almost collapsed under the strain of their load provided a silent background for the polished performance of someone who has made the genre into a policy that's identified with him – more than any other world leader. Netanyahu has come such a long way from the poster board and magic marker at the United Nations to what he showed us Monday evening.

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When the black drapes were dramatically removed, it became clear why the security cabinet members were rushed to Tel Aviv: That is where all the materials were. They could not be brought to Jerusalem.

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“The presenter is not a doctor,” is how they put it in certain commercials. In Israel the ultimate presenter is the prime minister. He has no competition – not in the international arena or locally, of course.

Intelligence experts claimed Monday evening that Netanyahu did not present information that could convict anyone, or a smoking gun related to Iranian violations of the agreement reached with the world powers in 2015. He only proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Iranians lied and cheated and hid their intentions before reaching that agreement. It seems liars never stop being that way; they are just waiting for the right opportunity.

Maybe he should have dumped less information on the viewers and limited his use of technical nuclear terms. Here and there he went too far into detail. But the archive clips in which Iranian leaders promise that they never had any intention of producing nuclear weapons did their job, without a doubt.

In the premier's practiced hands, the intelligence information became theater and the theater turned into intelligence with such force that has no precedent on an international stage. Even the microphone mishap at the beginning of his performance (maybe the New Israel Fund was guilty?) was quickly forgotten when the material was revealed.

Netanyahu gave his “show” in English to impress the audience overseas. In any case, the Israelis were already in his pocket. If an election were held tomorrow, he would win 50 Knesset seats – such was the general feeling among those who responded. It is clear that his performance was intended also to serve internal political needs, but in the end he is also a politician, possibly one on the eve of an election.

It is hard not to wonder why – knowing what Netanyahu had in his hand and what he intended to reveal to his people and to the world – he did not let pass the false and pitiful attack he made on Sunday on fans of the Bnei Sakhnin soccer club, who allegedly booed during a moment of silence for the victims of the flash flood last week.

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He must listen more to the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and to the heads of the intelligence community – and less to the irresponsible young brats who run his new media channels.