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Why Netanyahu Really Wanted Trump to Scuttle the Iran Deal

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On Wednesday night, twenty rockets were fired, from Syria, at the Golan Heights by, according to Israel, Iran’s Quds force, a special-forces unit of the Revolutionary Guard. Some got through Israel’s advanced missile-defense shield, but there were no injuries. Israel responded by launching seventy missiles, killing at least twenty-three fighters, including five Syrian troops and eighteen allied militiamen. The Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that the I.D.F. had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria. The Iranian attack had been expected; for days now, the Israeli media has been full of reports of people on the Golan cleaning out their shelters. On April 9th, Israel reportedly attacked the T-4 Syrian air force base near Homs. Seven members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who had apparently been establishing an airbase, complete with anti-aircraft batteries, were killed. Last week, Israel reportedly bombed a major cache of Iranian missiles north of Hama, in Syria. “Everyone knows Israel has conducted over a hundred such attacks,” the veteran Syrian analyst Charles Glass told me in a telephone conversation from London. Iran threatened retaliation, which came last night.

The attacks and counterattacks came just a couple of days after President Trump’s announcement, on Tuesday, that the United States was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Iran nuclear deal. The stories are often reported separately, but they should not be. The withdrawal is a part of a larger story, possibly a larger strategy, which began with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise presentation at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv, on April 30th. Its purpose was ostensibly to persuade the Trump Administration to confront a long-term nuclear threat to Israel. Its more plausible purpose was to prompt Trump to confront an immediate conventional threat. After Trump’s announcement, Israel attacked Kiswah, south of Damascus—again, an act designed to thwart Iran from firing rockets from Syria at northern Israel. Eight Iranians were reported to be among the fifteen killed.

Netanyahu, at his press conference, claimed to expose “something that the world has never seen before,” Iranian documents—“fifty-five thousand pages, another fifty-five thousand files on one hundred-and eighty-three CDs”—secured by Israeli intelligence. The cache showed that Iran had operated a secret nuclear-weapons program from 1999 to 2003, the so-called “Project Amad.” The J.C.P.O.A., Netanyahu said, presumed that Iran would “come clean” about its past nuclear program, but, he claimed, after signing the deal, in 2015, Iran “intensified


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