Editor‘s Notes: The Iran show

‘From 2002 onwards, the agency became increasingly concerned with the possible existence in Iran… including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.

“Prior to November 2011, the agency had information indicating that Iran in 2002-2003 developed exploding bridge-wire detonators and a high-voltage firing capability which in combination, enabled several detonators to be fired with less than microsecond simultaneity.

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“Iran had arranged… for activities to be undertaken in support of a possible military dimension of its nuclear program… and later, under the leadership of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, became focused in the early 2000s within projects in the AMAD Plan.”

Sound familiar? No, these are not quotes from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic speech on Monday night. They come from a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency – the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog – in 2015. Earlier IAEA reports revealed similar accusations against Iran, often based on information the agency said it received from “member states,” diplomatic jargon for intelligence agencies like the Mossad or CIA.

If that is the case, and the information Netanyahu revealed on Monday night was already known to the IAEA and the P5+1 when they negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, what was he trying to achieve? It would be one thing if he revealed a new smoking gun – evidence that Iran continued working on a nuclear weapon after signing the nuclear deal – but he didn’t. Everything he spoke about took place years ago.

The entire way his announcement was set up was also peculiar. The Prime Minister’s Office announced at about 4 p.m. that Netanyahu would be making a “dramatic” speech to the nation, timed for – how could it not be? – the 8 o’clock evening news.

The announcement came just after the Security Cabinet held an emergency meeting and just hours after news broke of another mysterious bombing in Syria, believed to be carried out by Israel, this time apparently against long-range Iranian ballistic missiles.

Was Netanyahu planning to announce that Israel was going to war against Iran? Had he already sent aircraft to bomb its nuclear facilities and bases in Syria? Was he going to ask Israelis to hunker down in bomb shelters? In the four hours that remained between the announcement of a speech and the speech itself, the Israeli rumor mill went wild. WhatsApp and social media were flooded with rumors of rockets landing in the North; of plans by the IDF to issue emergency call-up orders; and of commercial passenger planes, en-route to Israel, being diverted to France.

Before even analyzing the speech, it’s worth pondering why it had to be done this way. Why couldn’t Netanyahu have simply invited journalists to a standard press briefing? Why the theatrics and the suspense? Why the unnecessary drama? Why scare your own people? The answer is simple: Why not? Why not scare people so you can then calm their nerves? Why not take an entire country and keep it on the edge of its seat so everyone will then watch your planned performance scheduled for 8 p.m.? In other words, why not try and gain some political points when you have the chance?

GETTING BACK to substance, though, I believe there were three important and valuable objectives in revealing the new/old information to the world. First, was the intelligence accomplishment.

The full story how the Mossad got its hands on Iran’s secret nuclear archive and managed to smuggle hundreds of thousands of documents out of the country might never be told. Did Israeli spies manage to infiltrate the facility or did Israel succeed in recruiting an archive employee? For now, it makes no difference. The mere fact that Israel got its hands on this intelligence treasure trove makes the Iranians tremble in fear. This was an amazing and impressive penetration of Iran and its greatest secrets. It has the Iranian regime sweating and left wondering what else Israel can do and what else it knows. For purposes of deterrence that alone is important.

The second purpose was to unmask Iran. While the information was well known, the documents were only recently obtained by Israel, and it was an opportunity to remind the world of Iran’s true intentions. Iran lied to the world once, Netanyahu said, and there is no reason to believe that it isn’t continuing to lie to the world today. There might not have been a smoking gun, but why would Iran hold onto this so-called nuclear archive if it didn’t plan one day to reactivate the tests and studies it had once carried out? That alone is enough to raise alarms.

The third purpose is probably the most important. Netanyahu is getting nervous that President Donald Trump might balk at his original plan to nix, not fix, the nuclear deal with Iran. While Netanyahu thought he and Trump were on the same page, the visits last week to Washington by French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have him nervous that Trump might fall behind Europe and try to fix the deal.

What Netanyahu wanted to do on Monday was give Trump the justification to stand up to Macron and Merkel and follow through with his original plan. It remains to be seen what Trump will do, but the clock is ticking. It also remains to be seen how far Netanyahu is willing to go with this. In 2015, he went to Congress in direct opposition to president Barack Obama and attempted – but failed – to stop the nuclear deal. Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer likes to tell people that Netanyahu’s speech then was what made Trump fond of the Israeli leader.

Trump, then a presidential candidate, looked around the US to see who was leading the fight against the Iran deal and he found Netanyahu – not a senator or government secretary, but the Israeli premier.

Will Netanyahu do the same now with Trump? If the US president decides to stay within the deal and try to renegotiate better terms, will Netanyahu work against him and lobby Congress in an effort to stop him? Probably not. The last thing Netanyahu needs right now is an all-out battle with a US president, especially one who on May 15 is moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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IN DECEMBER, The Jerusalem Post celebrated its 85th anniversary and we have always strived to carry on the tradition of what our founder Gershon Agron envisioned in 1932: Create a newspaper in Israel that could tell the world what was happening within this ancient land and within the wider region.

Over the years we have grown. We are no longer just a leading print newspaper but the most widely read English-language website in Israel and the Diaspora, doing our best to serve as an unwavering and reliable source of news for what happens in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world.

But we also have to face reality. As some of you might have noticed, the newspaper changed this week.

Starting May 1, the daily Jerusalem Post will be two sections, each of eight pages. The weekend paper will remain the same size it has always been.

This was not an easy move for us.

The paper has long taken pride not just in its content but in its size.

However, with production costs rising alongside the cost of paper, we had no choice but to make some changes. We have also heard all of your comments. Our Customer Service Department has shared them with me and we are working to continue to provide you with the core content that makes this paper special – our insightful, objective and far-reaching news and analysis coupled with the features and opinion pieces you have grown to love.

The daily paper may look smaller in size, but the quality of what you look forward to seeing every morning is still there.

With this step, we are no different from the countless of other newspapers across the globe that are looking for ways to remain viable and at the same time provide their readers with high-quality. This is not an easy feat.

While we treasure each and every one of our print readers, we also can’t deny that most of our readers – by the millions – come to The Jerusalem Post via our website and our social media posts and pages.

As a result, we are restructuring.

We are merging our print and digital teams so we may continue investing our energies in the print pages we all hold dear. At the same time, we are finding new ways to upgrade our online presence in order to better meet the challenges of the future.

Let us remember what our role is as a newspaper. We are not an advocacy organization that can push a single agenda or one side of the political spectrum. We are a marketplace of ideas, where people can find a wide range of opinions.

As the primary newspaper for the Jewish world, we believe our role is to tackle the issues at the heart of controversy in the Jewish community head on. We don’t shy away from the tough issues, we embrace them.

I look forward to continuing this journey with you.

As always, feel free to write me directly at yaakov.

Shabbat Shalom.