Iran's nuclear negotiations have been arguably one of the most remarkable diplomatic struggles of the past decade. After years of negotiations an agreement has never appeared to be more in reach. With the deadline fast approaching, a number of outside players have ramped up their efforts to prevent an agreement from taking place, Israel above all. In this revealing and analytic program, we explore why Israel is so concerned about a peaceful ending to the decade-long drama, and what are the tools that Netanyahu is using to convince the western powers against a possible deal.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: Iran's nuclear negotiations have been arguably one of the most remarkable diplomatic struggles of the past decade. After years of negotiations an agreement has never appeared to be more in reach. With the deadline fast approaching, a number of outside players have ramped up their efforts to prevent an agreement from taking place, Israel above all.
SOUNDBITE [English], Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “Would you like lSIS enrich uranium? Then you mustn’t let the Islamic State of Iran do those things either.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party MP: “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s standard response to everything is that Iran is a threat.”
Narration: In this programme we shall explore why Israel is so concerned about a peaceful ending to the decade-long drama.
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathon Steel, International Analyst and Former Guardian Columnist: “It has always been trying to divert attention from the Palestine issue.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Peter Jenkins, Former British Ambassador to the IAEA: “It creates a source of need if you like in the united stated, need for Israel.”
Narration: And what are the tools that Mr. Netanyahu is using to convince the western powers against a possible deal.
SOUNDBITE [English], Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “My Friend standing up to Iran is not easy.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Abbas Edalat, Peace Activist and Anti-War Campaigner: “Centre of speech by Netanyahu’s in the US congress was about Iran, that Iran is a threat.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jon Snow, Journalist and Presenter: “He was preaching to the converted anyway so I don’t think he won any new friends.”
Narration: In September 2012 in a speech to the United Nations general assembly, Mr Netanyahu made Israel’s stance on Iran’s nuclear programme very clear:
SOUNDBITE [English], Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “A red line should be drawn right here, before Iran gets to the point where it’s a few months away, or a few weeks away from massing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.”
Narration: Of course, this was not the first time Israel has warned against an imminent Iranian nuclear threat. One of the earliest claims, made by the second highest selling Israeli newspaper Maariv, goes back to 1984, when the paper’s headline stated that “Iran is In Final Stages of Production of Nuclear Bomb.” In 1992, another strong push for action against Iran was made by the then-Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu, when he painted Iran as the number 1 enemy of Israel.
SOUNDBITE [English], Peter Jenkins, Former British Ambassador to the IAEA: “He first spoke up about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon 23 years ago, 1992 and since then at regular intervals he’s been telling the world that Iran was only a few months, or a year or two away from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party MP: “Of course it’s a very handy thing for Israeli prime minster to have to keep claiming Iran is about to develop nuclear weapons. We’ve had other cases of other people crying wolf as we say in Europe when Tony Blair claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction without being specific as to what these were and they were never present threat to Britain and others and we went to war with in Iraq and look at the consequences of that. And were there any weapons of mass destruction? No.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “We have saying in Hebrew we call it [speaks in Hebrew] you would say it in English, what is the bottom line? The bottom line again is that Iran fully dismantles its military nuclear programme.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Abbas Edalat, Peace Activist and Anti-War Campaigner: “The alternative to a deal for them is that Iran completely surrenders. That Iran would agree to completely destroy its civilian nuclear technology and that is something can never take place therefore logical dictates that the alternative is exactly raging a war by Israel and United states. Actually united stated prodded by Israel against Iran.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Peter Jenkins, Former British Ambassador to the IAEA: “People who’ve looked into his motives are fairly convinced that he doesn’t actually believe that any longer, if he ever did that Iran is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons but he wants the world and above all the united states to believe in the reality of this threat because it creates a bond or a source of need if you like in the united states, need for Israel, so it helps to consolidate the relationship between Israel and united states.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDBITE [English], Barack Obama, US President: “A nuclear armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests but it is also counter to the national security of the United States.”
SOUNDBITE [English], John Kerry, US Secretary of State: “We have intervened on Israel’s behalf in the last two years more than several hundred, a couple of hundred times in over 75 different fora in order to protect Israel.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Shimon Perez, Former Israeli President: “A world without American leadership, without her moral voice, your moral voice would be a darker world. A world without your friendship will invite aggression against Israel.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jon Snow, Journalist and Presenter: “I think there are all sorts of difficulties around the Israeli position, the first of course is that they themselves are not members of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which Iran is. They have never revealed, they have never allowed any kind of inspection, we don’t really know exactly what they’ve really got.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Abbas- Ali Mansoori, Iranian MP: “The Zionist regime has spent a lot of time and money in order to persuade people around the world that the Islamic Republic of Iran is equal to an atomic bomb and …”
Narration: Perhaps Mr. Netanyahu was correct in his claims that the Islamic Republic will always remain Israel’s sworn enemy. Iran, on her part, has not concealed her official defiance to recognize Israel as a state.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Hassan Rouhani, Iranian President: “(The Zionist regime) has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years, in the shadow of the occupation of the land of Palestine and holy Quds.”
Narration: In 2006, a statement by Iranian authorities strengthened Israel’s claims that Iran is an existential threat to the Zionist regime. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the newly elected president of Iran, was quoted as saying Israel “must be wiped off the map”. A strong quote by all standards - or as some claim, a misquote.
SOUNDBITE [English], Barack Obama, US President: “No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of regime that denied the holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and supports terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.”
Narration: Jonathan Steele, a Guardian columnist at the time, argued that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s original quote was ‘Lost in Translation’.
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathon Steel, International Analyst and Former Guardian Columnist: “Wiped off the map” was the four words that people took from what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said. Actually it was a mistranslation and unfortunately people got it wrong initially, including the BBC monitoring service which analyses these things and it translates broadcasts for politicians from experts whom I’ve spoken to that the word wiped off was not used it was actually something that can be translated as vanish and there was no reference to any maps at all, what actually he said and Ahmadinejad was used the phrase and I’m probably going to pronounce it wrongly [speaks Farsi], ‘page of time’, ‘page of history’ and the funny thing was that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoting an original statement made by imam Khomeini.
And so obviously if you’re saying that the regime occupying Jerusalem, again he didn’t actually use the phrase Israel, or even Zionism. Just the regime occupying Jerusalem, will vanish from the page of history or the page of time. So it’s a vague reference to sometime in the future there will be no regime occupying Jerusalem. It doesn’t mean that today or tomorrow Iran is going to start a war against Israel and wipe it off the map.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jon Snow, Journalist and Presenter: “Nobody else in Iran came up to support this statement and Mr. Ahmadinejad has now gone, and Mr Rouhani has in fact gone out of his way actually to be quite appreciative and respectful of the Jewish faith. And indeed something you know people in the outside world don’t know is that the largest Jewish population in the Middle East, outside Israel, is where? It’s actually Iran.”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
Narration: But the crux of the matter is that despite her well admitted opposition to any mandate for the state of Israel, Iran has never threatened to attack Israel by military force, although she has been repeatedly threatened to be attacked by Israel or the United States.
SOUNDBITE [English], Barack Obama, US President: “I said when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon I will take no options off the table and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power and yes a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “I believe that it’s the combination of a credible military threat and the pressure of those sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table.”
Narration: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, was quick to adjust any misperceptions.
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathon Steel, International Analyst and Former Guardian Columnist: “Ayatollah Khamenei made a statement saying that Iran has no intention of aggression against any nation and it was looked, interpreted as deliberate rebuke to what Ahmadinejad had said and to show the top person in Iran was not taking the same view as the president. It wasn’t of course given the same news coverage in the west, certainly not in Israel.”
Narration: This was not the first time Ayatollah Khamenei had attempted to clear the misunderstandings surrounding Iran’s political stance and its nuclear programme.
SOUNDBITE [English], Abbas Edalat, Peace Activist and Anti-War Campaigner: “Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa against the production, stock piling and use of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party MP: “I think that was a very interesting and very important statement and very important document barely reported anywhere in the west. Supreme leader issued a fatwa against the whole principle of nuclear weapons as being morally repugnant and wrong.”
Narration: The struggle for a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme goes back to more than a decade ago. 2005 is remembered by many as a golden opportunity to achieve a breakthrough. In a video message in 2014, Javad Zarif, Iran’s current foreign minister and the then-representative of Iran at the United Nations, spoke of this missed opportunity.
SOUNDBITE [English], Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister: “We could have resolved the nuclear issue in 2005. But then, people didn’t believe me when I said that Iranians are allergic to pressure.”
Narration: Back in 2005, many were sceptic regarding Iran’s claims of a peaceful nuclear programme. Amongst those was the former British Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA, Peter Jenkins, who held direct talks with Mr. Zarif at the time.
SOUNDBITE [English], Peter Jenkins, Former British Ambassador to the IAEA: “There was a real opportunity for the UK, France, Germany to come to an agreement with Iran about the future of above all enrichment, uranium enrichment in Iran. But we passed up that opportunity, we failed to seize the opportunity, because we knew that what was on offer from Iran at that point would be totally unacceptable to the United States. So what has changed is that the United States position has become much more reasonable. They do now accept that as a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, it is perfectly legitimate for Iran to want to have a uranium enrichment programme.”
Narration: Zarif’s claims in 2014 were correct: Iran was in fact allergic to pressure (emphasis on ‘was’), and during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s term in office, the negotiations were slow, with little success if any at all.
SOUNDBITE [English], Jon Snow, Journalist and Presenter: “He speaks European languages. He’s got a PhD from Glasgow Caledonian University. Tonight he is to be Iran’s president.”
Narration: Mr. Rouhani’s triumph in the 2013 Iranian presidential elections presented a new historic opportunity for a breakthrough deal.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Hassan Rouhani, Iranian President: “We have joined all the treaties that ban nuclear weapons. Never have we worked against these treaties, and we will never do so.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jon Snow, Journalist and Presenter: “There is no question that there has been a complete transformation since president Rouhani came in, and indeed I think that that’s also been assisted by having vice president Kerry on the job rather than Hillary Clinton for example in the old day. So I think this is the best hope we have, they are the best two negotiators.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathon Steel, International Analyst and Former Guardian Columnist: “After all Rouhani himself had been part of the nuclear negotiations in the earlier period. So he knows the dossier, he knows the file extremely well, and he is obviously a very charming man and so is Mr Zarif, and they seem to get on well with the Americans and the Europeans. Khamenei has made it very clear that he is behind Rouhani. He has made it quite clear that he is not just sitting on the side-lines, but he actively supports Rouhani and Zarif and the negotiating position. So that’s extremely encouraging.”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution: “The criticisms must be fair, considering the fact that the new administration has been in office for only a few months. They must be given more time.”
Narration: But as the prospects for a deal loomed closer the attempts of Mr Netanyahu to disrupt and destroy any deal multiplied.
SOUNDBITE [English], Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “They say things are changing. They point to last year’s elections in Iran. They claim that Iran’s smooth-talking president and foreign minister, they’ve changed not only the tone of Iran’s foreign policy, but also its substance. Really?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Peter Jenkins, Former British Ambassador to the IAEA: “It was certainly a setback for him when the Iranian people elected a man who is not only committed to moderation, but is also obviously a wise and intelligent man.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Abbas Edalat, Peace Activist and Anti-War Campaigner: “No matter who comes to have the government in Iran, whether it’s the government of Dr Khatami or Dr Ahmadinejad or Dr Rouhani, it’s completely immaterial for Israel. Israel needs this Iranophobic propaganda for its domestic and international interests.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel:“Iran’s president Rouhani stood here last week, and shed crocodile tears over what he called the globalization of terrorism. Maybe he should spare us those phony tears.”
Narration: February 2015 saw yet another blow to Netanyahu’s claims of an Iranian threat. Leaked top-secret Mossad documents shared with British paper ‘The Guardian’, revealed how Netanyahu’s secret service contradicted his dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb. The documents stated that a secret report was shared with South Africa a few weeks after Mr. Netanyahu’s UN speech. In this report Israel’s intelligence agency concluded that Iran was not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.
SOUNDBITE [English], Abbas Edalat, Peace Activist and Anti-War Campaigner: “Netanyahu knowing all of that – obviously he has access to all the intelligence from his own intelligence services – knowing all of that, was playing a very deceptive game to try to deceive people, saying that Iran is one year away, six months away – something that Netanyahu has been saying for years and years and for 20 years, in order to mobilize support for sanctions and military intervention against Iran.”
Narration: The report highlighted the distance between the rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment. As the prospects of a deal with Iran grow bigger, Israel's attempts to obstruct and obscure it also intensifies. In March 2015, the Israeli prime minister tore apart diplomatic protocols by addressing the US congress, upon the invitation of the US House Speaker John Boehner. He urged America to walk away from what he described as “a very bad deal” with Iran.
SOUNDBITE [English], Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “I feel a profound obligation, to speak about an issue that, could well-threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jon Snow, Journalist and Presenter: “I don’t think it was very effective. He was preaching to the converted anyway. So I don’t think he won any new friends, and he alienated quite a lot of old friends. So I think in fact the speech was something of a disaster, as far as his wanting to have any influence over America on the question of Iran’s nuclear weapons.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathon Steel, International Analyst and Former Guardian Columnist: “These were the hawkish people and mainly Republicans. A lot of Democrats didn’t turn up to listen to the speech, and these were the people who already are excited about this alleged threat from Iran and I think it actually had quite a big effect in alienating a lot of Americans from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Narration: Surprisingly, Mr. Obama was not involved in the invitation procedure, and obviously not on the list of attendees.
SOUNDBITE [English], John Kerry, US Secretary of State: “Obviously it was odd, if not unique, that we learnt of it from the speaker of the house and that the administration was not included in this process.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
SOUNDBITE [English], Barack Obama, US President: “I did have a chance to take a look at the transcript, and as far as I can tell, there was nothing new. The Prime Minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathon Steel, International Analyst and Former Guardian Columnist: “It was completely incorrect and impolite to come to Washington almost behind the back of the US president and start convincing Congress people to turn down a deal which hasn’t even been agreed yet; we don’t know the terms of the deal. So it was clumsy, it was rude, it was bad politics in terms of trying to get American Support.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minster of Israel: “Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both worlds: aggression abroad, prosperity at home.”
Narration: It was a bold move by Mr Netanyahu, but the audience back home were more than impressed.
SOUNDBITE [English], Abbas Edalat, Peace Activist and Anti-War Campaigner: “I think that talk was intended for the domestic electoral interests of Netanyahu, and in that sense, in the short-term sense, it was quite successful because Netanyahu and the Likud party were really lagging behind in opinion polls. But after that speech and after playing the racist card, and playing the anti-peace talk, saying that he will never allow a Palestinian state, he was actually elected, in the sense that Likud party got 30 members of the parliament, which was something completely unexpected by all opinion polls.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jon Snow, Journalist and Presenter: “I honestly think that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s game has been to use the threat from Iran as he likes to describe it, to get himself elected. Well he’s got himself elected now and he’s done it in a fairly controversial way. I honestly think that re-elected Netanyahu does not have the power he had before.”
Narration: But why has Mr. Netanyahu braved all the odds to become the chevalier of Iran conflict? Indeed Israel’s persistent attempts over the past few decades to portray Iran as an existential threat have risen more than a few eyebrows.
SOUNDBITE [English], Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party MP: “Netanyahu is a master at manipulation of the media. You have to – in a strange sort of way – admire the ability to do that. He makes statements about Iran that he must know not to be true. Of course that then sets the whole media concentration on the question of Iran, the question of Western talks with Iran. It distracts attention from the expansionism, the settlement policy, the imprisonments, and the continued siege of Gaza, and the poverty and shortages and hardship that is being caused.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Abbas Edalat, Peace Activist and Anti-War Campaigner: “Netanyahu is bent to use this Iranophobic propaganda in order to continue its international and national policies of continuing with aggression against its neighbours, aggression against Palestinians, and domestically to promote further settlers settling down in occupied land, in Palestinian land - by diverting attention, distracting attention from the real issues to this Iran being a threat.”
Narration: With progress made in the talks, all negotiating parties are now optimistic of a possible deal. But a deal could move the spotlight from an Iranian threat, onto the issue of Palestine and the illegal Israeli settlements.
SOUNDBITE [English], Peter Jenkins, Former British Ambassador to the IAEA: “It’s always been pretty apparent but recently he said something that made it very apparent, that Mr Netanyahu is not interested in resolving the Palestinian issue in accordance with a two-state solution. So he needs an issue like the supposed Iranian threat to distract attention from his reluctance and refusal to be constructive on Palestine.”
Narration: So as Mr. Netanyahu stated in the US congress, any deal could in fact be “a very bad deal” for Israel.