It was sold as a revelation on par with their ‘Palestine Papers‘ expose in 2011. The Guardian last week published leaked cables purporting to show (among other highly specious claims) that Netanyahu’s allegations at the UN about Iran’s progress towards producing a nuclear bomb was “contradicted” by the Mossad. The bulk of the story (Leaked cables show Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted by Mossad, Feb. 23) was based on one paragraph in a Mossad document purportedly shared with South African intelligence agencies a few weeks after Netanyahu’s speech to the UN.
The Guardian alleged that this document – originally obtained by Al-Jazeera – proved that “Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service.”
Today, in an official editorial (The Guardian view on Netanyahu in Washington: collusion or collision?, March 3), the Guardian doubled down on this claim. In the context of harshly criticizing Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress later today, the editorial intoned:
Only last week this newspaper revealed evidence that Mr Netanyahu presented the United Nations in 2012 with an account of Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons that was contradicted by his own intelligence service. He must have known, when he made his speech to the UN, that his claims would be taken as reflecting the views of Israeli intelligence. This raises the question of whether he decided that the political benefit of playing up Iran’s progress and threat outweighed the Israeli state’s – and the world’s – interest in effective international pressure on Iran.
Let’s remember that the word “contradict” refers to denying the truth of a claim by stating the exact opposite.
However, as other commentators have demonstrated, the Guardian’s claim that the Mossad “contradicted” Netanyahu is, at best, extremely misleading.
Here’s the relevant claim in Netanyahu’s 2012 UN speech, noted by the Guardian:
“By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move[d] on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
But, the Mossad appeared to be in general agreement with this assessment, as Times of Israel military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg aptly explained, based on a fuller reading of the same leaked cables cited by the Guardian
“Iran continues to improve its enrichment abilities and is even liable to advance them significantly” once the then-new centrifuges were put into service. It assessed that Iran is “making efforts” to put the IR40 reactor in Arak into operation, which is “expected to produce enough military-grade plutonium for one bomb per year” – although it would need a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in order to be converted to fuel for weapons.
“In the area of nuclear of weapons,” the report stated, “there is continued R&D activity at SPND, under the Iranian Defense Ministry, which we understand is intended for accumulating know-how and creating an organizational framework [which] it will be able to make use of to produce nuclear fuel, when the order is given.”
And finally, the full passage from which the quote was cherry picked: “Bottom line: Though Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons, it is working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment, reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given.”
In other words, Netanyahu and the Mossad agree that Iran is in pursuit of a bomb and is continually closing in on that objective; that it has advanced on two tracks, uranium and plutonium; and that it has amassed enough five-percent-enriched uranium for several bombs, some of which has been further enriched to 20%.
Ginsburg concludes by demonstrating that “the only disunity between the two assessments regards the rate of enrichment”:
Netanyahu said that by the summer of 2013 Iran will have finished the 20% enrichment stage and moved on to the final stage; the Mossad memo, written several weeks after the prime minister’s September 2012 address, says that Iran “does not appear to be ready to enrich it” – its 20% stockpile – “to higher levels.”
In other words, the discrepancy does not revolve around the fundamental issue of whether Iran is, in fact, “performing the activity necessary to produce weapons,” as stated, but rather around the speed with which such action is being taken.
Of course, a major Guardian ‘expose’ with the headline “Netanyahu and Mossad appear to differ slightly on the speed in which Iran is working to produce nuclear weapons” would have been a yawner of a story. Further, consistent with their extraordinarily misleading reports on the Palestine Papers, the Guardian’s contextualization of these latest leaked documents relies on selectively used quotes to advance the desired narrative: that Netanyahu is, for political purposes, deceiving Israel and the world on the threat posed by Iran.
Once again, the Guardian has rendered evidence and objective reporting subservient to a specific ideological agenda.