Netanyahu Reveals 'Nuclear R&D Site' in Iran; Rivals Slam 'Electioneering'

Eight days before Israel's election, premier says that Iran covered up site near Abadeh; Gantz and Lapid: 'Netanyahu using sensitive security information to campaign'

Netanyahu presents the Iranian site that he says was used to develop nuclear weapons
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel has identified additional Iranian sites used to develop Tehran's nuclear program in a special televised address eight days before Israel's election.

In addition to the nuclear site known to the IAEA, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, Netanyahu said, there is another secret Iranian site in Abadeh, south of Isfahan, used for the development of nuclear weapons. When Iran learned that Israel knew of the site and what it was used for, they destroyed it completely.

Netanyahu did not specify what exactly was being developed at the site or how Iran found out that Israel is aware of the site.

Netanyahu's statements in both Hebrew and English

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In a message to the leadership in Tehran, Netanyahu said, "Israel knows what you're doing, Israel knows when you're doing it and Israel knows where you're doing it."

He added that Israel will continue to "reveal your lies, continue to do everything in order to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and continue to act against Iranian aggression anywhere and at any time." 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted in response to Netanyahu's announcement: "The possessor of REAL nukes cries wolf—on an ALLEGED “demolished" site in Iran."

"He & #B_Team just want a war, no matter innocent blood & another $7 TRILLION. Remember his 'GUARANTE' of 'positive reverberations' in ’02? This time, he assuredly won’t be on the sidelines watching," Zarif went on to say. 

In 2012, Iran announced the construction of what it said was an air defense site near Abadeh. Fars reported at the time that the 200-hectare air defense installation would be the largest in that part of the country and will be built by Khatam al-Anbia, the engineering arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Fars reported.

In the announcement, Netanyahu noted that IAEA inspectors found traces of uranium in a Turqezabad, Iran site identified by Israel as a nuclear weapons archive. Upon being identified by Israel, the compound was then "covered up" - literally, Netanyahu said, with gravel. The nuclear site represents a "grave violation of the non-proliferation treaty."

"What we see is a consistent pattern of Iranian lies, deception and violations," he said, addressing the international community. "Wake up and realize that Iran is consistently lying."

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 39Haaretz

He said that the solution to Iran's deception is additional sanctions: "pressure, pressure and more pressure."

Despite these calls for increased sanctions, though, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Monday night that he could meet with Iranian President Hassan Rohani. Trump said that he had no problem with such an encounter, hours after Netanyahu's announcement.

Rohani has said Iran would not talk to the United States until Washington lifted all of the sanctions it has reimposed on Tehran after it withdrew last year from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

Gantz: Netanyahu uses security information for campaign

Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's chief rival for prime minister and leader of the Kahol Lavan party, said in response to the address that it's "strange that the information was published mere hours after the camera bill collapsed. Netanyahu's use of sensitive security information for his campaign proves that his judgement is flawed. Even in his last days as prime minister, Netanyahu worries only about Netanyahu."

Yair Lapid, co-chairman of Kahol Lavan party said, "Netanyahu is again using intelligence information for election campaigning. This is a worrying lack of national responsibility. Iran's nuclear development program should not be used as a campaign ploy."

Sources said that the prime minister was advised to make the announcements regarding the nuclear sites immediately after the IAEA chairman's press conference following his return from Tehran.

After Trump's announcement, Democratic Union's Ehud Barak tweeted that Netanyahu's announcement is "a terror attack for Israel," and "part of a pathetic attempt to protect his legacy, while Trump reaches out for negotiations with Iran." He added, "His dangerous babble doesn’t help Israel. On the contrary. He is a terrorist in Israel, and helps Iran. Anything to save himself from a trial. Shame."  

In a speech a year ago, Netanyahu, who vehemently opposed the Iranian nuclear deal, called on the IAEA to visit the Turqezabad site immediately, saying it had housed 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of unspecified radioactive material that had since been removed.

Reuters first reported in April that the IAEA, which is policing the nuclear deal, had inspected the site – a step it had said it takes "only when necessary" – and environmental samples taken there were sent off for analysis.

Israeli and U.S. media have since reported that the samples turned up traces of radioactive material or matter,  the same vague language used by Netanyahu.

Those traces were, however, of uranium, the diplomats said – the same element Iran is enriching and one of only two fissile elements with which one can make the core of a nuclear bomb. One diplomat said the uranium was not highly enriched, meaning it was not purified to a level anywhere close to that needed for weapons.

Reuters contributed to this report.