“Israel knows what you’re doing, Israel knows when you’re doing it and Israel knows where you’re doing it,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he addressed Iranian leaders in a televised presser from Jerusalem Sept. 9. He accused Tehran of conducting experiments “to develop nuclear weapons” at the undisclosed site near the central city of Abadeh, in Fars province. According to Netanyahu, Iran has been keeping the international community in the dark about the facility and has demolished it after realizing that Israel detected the activities there. The Israeli prime minister offered no further details.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quick to react, saying Netanyahu was crying wolf. “He and the B-Team just want a war,” Zarif posted on his official Twitter account. In Zarif’s terminology, the B-Team is a group of like-minded warmongers formed by Netanyahu, outgoing US national security adviser John Bolton, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Zarif and many others in the Iranian leadership maintain the four have gone out of their ways to push US President Donald Trump into an all-out war against Tehran.
In his tweet, the Iranian top diplomat also unearthed an older statement by Netanyahu in 2002, a few months before he assumed the post of Israel’s foreign minister when he guaranteed in a testimony to the US Congress that a strike on Iraq would be associated with “positive reverberations.” In an explicit message, Zarif warned Netanyahu that if Iran is struck, “this time, he assuredly won’t be on the sidelines watching.”
In 2018, Netanyahu displayed a series of pictures at the UN General Assembly on similar purported nuclear activities in Turquzabad, an obscure location outside the capital city of Tehran. The speech drew both condemnation and ridicule from Iranian officials. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi quipped that Netanyahu’s sources had probably “got him” by fooling him with fabricated information. Months later, Netanyahu claimed that agents had stolen a voluminous archive of files alleging that the Islamic Republic had been pursuing a weapons program. Those statements, which came only a few days before the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, were dismissed by officials in Tehran.
Netanyahu’s latest claim was viewed by many in Israel as an election-related stunt. Political rivals said the prime minister lacked “judgment” and was exploiting sensitive intelligence for propaganda purposes. In Iran, a similar opinion was reflected by many on social media. “Since 1995, Netanyahu has been repeating claims that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons in two years. And of course, he updates the very same statement either ahead of elections or whenever there is an opening in US-Iran ties,” one person tweeted. According to Iranian foreign policy analyst Reza Nasri, “Mere allusions to possible negotiations, de-escalation and peaceful resolution of conflict between Iran and the United States usually prompt him [Netanyahu] to muddy the waters.”
In recent months, that peaceful resolution has been actively sought by multiple outsiders, including the French government, in an effort to lead the arch-foes Washington and Tehran into a path of reconciliation. Yet confusing twists and alternates have characterized statements by Trump and other senior American officials on tensions with Iran. In the meantime, Iranian officials have adamantly adhered to the assertion that any dialogue needs to be preceded by a full removal of sanctions the Trump administration reimposed on Tehran after abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal.
Speculations have also been rife particularly about a possible meeting between Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, during the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York. But on the official front in Iran, there are no signs indicating a change of heart. “You couldn’t even sit down with the Taliban leaders, let alone the Iranian president,” wrote Rouhani’s top adviser, Hesameddin Ashena, in a message to American officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “You lack the courage to … make tough decisions, don’t you?”