Iran was clandestinely developing nuclear weapons but destroyed a secret site after Israel discovered it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged on Monday.
Tehran had been developing atomic arms at a facility in Abadeh, south of Iranian city of Isfahan, said Netanyahu. It was the first time the prime minister identified the site after publicly accusing Iran of building a bomb last year while citing a trove of Iranian documents allegedly stolen by Israeli agents from an Iranian warehouse.
“In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said, adding after Israeli intelligence found out about it, “they destroyed the site. They just wiped it out”.
The prime minister did not provide further details on the alleged experiments, or say when they purportedly were held.
In comments directed at Iranian officials he added: “Israel knows what you’re doing, Israel knows when you’re doing it, and Israel knows where you’re doing it.”
His accusation came as the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reportedly found traces of uranium at a site that Iran had yet to explain.
The UN nuclear watchdog told Iran on Monday there was no time to waste in answering its questions, which diplomats say include how traces of uranium were found at the facility that was not declared to the agency.
Diplomats said the uranium particles ended up at what Tehran claimed was a carpet-cleaning facility.
Netanyahu, who strongly opposed a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, made the remarks in a televised speech about a week before a general election in Israel, in which he is in a tight race to win another term.
The prime minister first pointed to the site last year calling it a “secret atomic warehouse” and saying it had housed unspecified radioactive material that had since been removed.
“I call on the international community to wake up, to realise that Iran is systematically lying,” Netanyahu said. “The only way to stop Iran’s march to the bomb, and its aggression in the region, is pressure, pressure and more pressure.”
No immediate reaction to the allegations was available from Iranian officials.
The IAEA said Iran was starting to follow through on its pledge last week to further breach the landmark 2015 accord, this time installing more advanced centrifuges and moving towards enriching uranium with them, which the deal bans.
Details of IAEA inspections are confidential and the agency generally does not comment on them. But the IAEA’s acting chief made clear in meetings in Tehran on Sunday he pushed Iran to improve cooperation with the UN non-proliferation watchdog.
“Time is of the essence,” Cornel Feruta told a news conference. “I think that was a message very well understood,” he said of his meetings with officials – including Iran’s foreign minister and its nuclear energy chief.
The IAEA has told member states Iran has had two months to answer its questions, though it has only given a general description of the issue because it is confidential.
At the same time, the Vienna-based IAEA has not yet sounded the alarm because such questions are part of a painstaking process that can often take many months.
“We are very, let’s say rigorous, meticulous and we are faithful to our mandate,” Feruta said, without going into specifics.
In response to punishing US sanctions imposed after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal in May last year, Iran has been breaching the limits it imposed on its atomic activities step by step.
China – a signatory to the nuclear deal along with France, Germany, Britain and Russia – called on the US to “give up its wrong approach such as unilateral sanctions and extreme pressure against Iran”.
“At the same time, all parties to the agreement should also commit themselves to the [deal’s] full and effective implementation,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.
“We hope that the relevant parties can meet at halfway and push for the easing of tensions around the Iranian nuclear issue,” Hua added.