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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Benjamin Netanyahu takes Iran's secret nuclear files to Europe

Details of Iranian military involvement in secret nuclear programme shared with Europeans ahead of trip

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. Amir Cohen / Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. Amir Cohen / Reuters

Israel has granted European spymasters access to parts of the secret Iranian nuclear files spirited by Mossad from Tehran ahead of a visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to Germany, France and Britain this week.

The European powers' dogged determination to uphold the 2015 agreement even after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord has dismayed Mr Netanyahu.

A briefing dossier prepared for the trip shows key parts of the Iranian government's work to convert the country’s nuclear development activities into an atomic bomb. Israel said the material proves Iran harbours plans to build a bomb.

Protests are expected to dog Mr Netanyahu over the bloodshed on the Gaza border, where Israeli forces turned their guns on demonstrators asserting their right to return on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba expulsions. However the Israeli leader hopes to keep the focus of his visit on his country’s preoccupation with Iran.

David Albright, a US expert on Iran's nuclear programme, told the Times newspaper that the memos culled from the trove of material Israel took from Iran should prompt those still in the deal to set an ultimatum to Iran. Mr Albright said the Israeli revelations underpinned his belief that Iran’s Fordow underground enrichment facility was designed to produce weapons-grade uranium.

He said Iran should now face demands for an audit of its military bases for hidden nuclear activity.

“If it refuses then the Iran agreement should be discarded and the world should return to a pressure campaign and the re-imposition of sanctions,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu began his tour with a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and is set to hold working discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"I will meet there with three leaders and will discuss two subjects: Iran and Iran," he said at the airport before leaving. "It could be that on this matter there isn't a consensus right now, but with time, in my opinion, that understanding will be reached."

Peter Lintl, a German international relations expert, said the visit was likely to do little to change minds in the short term, especially in Berlin which has close trading ties with Iran. “Germany believes that the nuclear agreement with Iran was a step in the right direction,” he said. “Israel, on the other hand, says that the agreement offers Iran the opportunity to develop a nuclear bomb — even under the guise of alleged legitimacy — thanks to the deal.”

Israeli officials said Mr Netanyahu was ready to chip away at European support for the deal, viewing the difficulties of maintaining the deal as rising over time.

"There's no secret that the prime minister wants to completely change the agreement and replace it with an agreement that covers the issues that are missing," said Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador now working at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. "I don't think that he will change the policy, but he will get maybe a commitment to work on the missing points."

The second aspect of the discussion on Iran is the country’s position in Syria where Mr Netanyahu fears the establishment of a permanent Tehran-controlled military presence within striking distance of his country. “Israel will continue to maintain full freedom of action in the country in accordance with its security needs,” the Israeli leader told a cabinet meeting before his departure.

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Amid growing debate in France about the rise of anti-Semitism, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Macron are set to launch a far-reaching programme of cultural exchanges that will see approximately 400 events staged in both countries.

The two leaders will take part in a gala launch titled Israel@Lights at the Grand Palais gallery on Paris's Champs Elysées.

In Britain, concerns over anti-anti-Semitism are focused at the political level, with the opposition Labour party under fire for harbouring activists with hateful views. Commentators in Israel have said that under the Conservative government and with the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, ties with London are closer than at any time since the creation of Israel.

The first official visit by a senior member of the royal family will take place when Prince William travels to the region in a few weeks. The Haaretz newspaper said the visit would lift one of the “black clouds” that had lingered since the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948. “Israel’s foreign service considers the upcoming event to be a breakthrough,” the newspaper said. “On numerous occasions in the past, various individuals and organisations sought to invite the queen herself or representatives of the crown to Israel, but the Foreign Office blocked the moves.”