|The Phantom Menace|
Fantasies, Falsehoods, and Fear-Mongering about Iran's Nuclear Program
"To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary." - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Facts rarely get in the way of American and Israeli fear-mongering and jingoism, especially when it comes to anti-Iran propaganda. For nearly thirty years now, U.S. and Zionist politicians and analysts, along with some of their European allies, have warned that Iranian nuclear weapons capability is just around the corner and that such a possibility would not only be catastrophic for Israel with its 400 nuclear warheads and state-of-the-art killing power supplied by U.S. taxpayers, but that it would also endanger regional dictatorships, Europe, and even the United States.
If these warnings are to be believed, Iran is only a few years away from unveiling a nuclear bomb...and has been for the past three decades. Fittingly, let's begin in 1984.
An April 24, 1984 article entitled "'Ayatollah' Bomb in Production for Iran in United Press International referenced a Jane's Intelligence Defense Weekly report warning that Iran was moving "very quickly" towards a nuclear weapon and could have one as early as 1986.
Two months later, on June 27, 1984, in an article entitled "Senator says Iran, Iraq seek N-Bomb," Minority Whip of the U.S. Senate Alan Cranston was quoted as claiming Iran was a mere seven years away from being able to build its own nuclear weapon. In April 1987, the Washington Post published an article with the title "Atomic Ayatollahs: Just What the Mideast Needs – an Iranian Bomb," in which reporter David Segal wrote of the imminent threat of such a weapon.
The next year, in 1988, Iraq issued warnings that Tehran was at the nuclear threshold.
By late 1991, Congressional reports and CIA assessments maintained a "high degree of certainty that the government of Iran has acquired all or virtually all of the components required for the construction of two to three nuclear weapons." In January 1992, Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that "within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb."
Furthermore, a February 1992 report by the U.S. House of Representatives suggested that Iran would have two or three operational nuclear weapons by April 1992.
In March 1992, The Arms Control Reporter reported that Iran already had four nuclear weapons, which it had obtained from Russia. That same year, the CIA predicted an Iranian nuclear weapon by 2000, then later changed their estimate to 2003.
A May 1992 report in The European claims that "Iran has obtained at least two nuclear warheads out of a batch officially listed as 'missing from the newly independent republic of Kazakhstan.'"
Speaking on French television in October 1992, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres warned the international community that Iran would be armed with a nuclear bomb by 1999. The following month, the New York Times reported that Israel was confident Iran would "become a nuclear power in a few years unless stopped."
The same year, Robert Gates, then-director of the CIA, addressed the imminent threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. "Is it a problem today?" he asked at the time, "probably not. But three, four, five years from now it could be a serious problem."
On January 23, 1993, Gad Yaacobi, Israeli envoy to the UN, was quoted in the Boston Globe, claiming that Iran was devoting $800 million per year to the development of nuclear weapons. Then, on February 24, 1993, CIA director James Woolsey said that although Iran was "still eight to ten years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon" the United States was concerned that, with foreign assistance, it could become a nuclear power earlier.
That same year, international press went wild with speculation over Iranian nuclear weapons. In the Spring of 1993, U.S. News & World Report,the New York Times, the conservative French weekly Paris Match, and Foreign Report all claimed Iran had struck a deal with North Korea to develop nuclear weapons capability, while U.S. intelligence analysts alleged an Iranian nuclear alliance with Ukraine. Months later, the AFP reported Switzerland was supplying Iran with nuclear weapons technology, while the Intelligence Newsletter claimed that the French firm CKD was delivering nuclear materials to Iran and U.S. News and World Report accused Soviet scientists working in Kazakhstan of selling weapons-grade uranium to Iran. By the end of 1993, Theresa Hitchens and Brendan McNally of Defense News and National Defense University analyst W. Seth Carus had reaffirmed CIA director Woolsey's prediction "that Iran could have nuclear weapons within eight to ten years."
In January 1995, John Holum, director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, testified before Congress that "Iran could have the bomb by 2003," while Defense Secretary William Perry unveiled a grimmer analysis, stating that "Iran may be less than five years from building an atomic bomb, although how soon...depends how they go about getting it." Perry suggested that Iran could potentially buy or steal a nuclear bomb from one of the former Soviet states in "a week, a month, five years."
The New York Times reported that "Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought, and could be less than five years away from having an atomic bomb, several senior American and Israeli officials say," a claim repeated by Greg Gerardi in The Nonproliferation Review (Vol. 2, 1995).
Benjamin Netanyahu, in his 1995 book "Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat the International Terrorist Network," wrote, "The best estimates at this time place Iran between three and five years away from possessing the prerequisites required for the independent production of nuclear weapons."
At the same time, a senior Israeli official declared, "If Iran is not interrupted in this program by some foreign power, it will have the device in more or less five years." After a meeting in Jerusalem between Defense Secretary Perry and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, they announced that Iran would have a nuclear bomb in seven to 15 years.
On February 15, 1996, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak told members of the UN Security Council that Iran would be producing nuclear weapons by 2004.
On April 29, 1996, Israel's then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres claimed in an interview with ABC that "the Iranians are trying to perfect a nuclear option" and would "reach nuclear weapons" in four years. By 1997 the Israelis confidently predicted an active Iranian nuclear bomb by 2005.
In March 1997, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director John Holum again attested to a House panel that Iran would develop a nuclear weapon sometime between 2005 and 2007.
The following month, according to a report in Hamburg's Welt am Sonntag, the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) believed Iran had an active nuclear weapons development program and would be able to produce nuclear weapons by 2002, "although that timeframe could be accelerated if Iran acquires weapons-grade fissile material on the black market." Eight days later, in early May 1997, a Los Angeles Times article quoted a senior Israeli intelligence official as stating that Iran would be able to make a nuclear bomb by "the middle of the next decade."
On June 26, 1997, the U.S. military commander in the Persian Gulf, General Binford Peay, stated that, were Iran to acquire access to fissile material, it would obtain nuclear weapons "sometime at the turn of the century, the near-end of the turn of the century."
In September 1997, Jane's Intelligence Defense Review reported that former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher declared, "we know that since the mid-1980s, Iran has had an organized structure dedicated to acquiring and developing nuclear weapons," as then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the Iranian nuclear technology program "may be the most dangerous development in the 21st century."
Writing in the Jerusalem Post on April 9, 1998, Steve Rodan claimed "Documents obtained by the Jerusalem Post show Iran has four nuclear bombs." The next day, U.S. State Department spokesperson James Rubin addressed this allegation, stating, "There was no evidence to substantiate such claims."
On October 21, 1998, General Anthony Zinni, head of U.S. Central Command, said Iran could have deliverable nuclear weapons by 2003. "If I were a betting man," he said, "I would say they are on track within five years, they would have the capability."
The next year, on November 21, 1999, a senior Israeli military official was quoted by AP reporter Ron Kampeas (who was later hired as Washington bureau chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) saying, "Unless the United States pressures Russia to end its military assistance to Iran, the Islamic republic will possess a nuclear capability within five years."
On December 9, 1999, General Zinni reiterated his assessment that Iran "will have nuclear capability in a few years."
In a January 2000 New York Times article co-authored by Judith Miller, it was reported that the CIA suggested to the Clinton administration "that Iran might now be able to make a nuclear weapon," even though this assessment was "apparently not based on evidence that Iran's indigenous efforts to build a bomb have achieved a breakthrough," but rather that "the United States cannot track with great certainty increased efforts by Iran to acquire nuclear materials and technology on the international black market."
On March 9, 2000, the BBC stated that German intelligence once again believed Iran to be "working to develop missiles and nuclear weapons." The Telegraph reported on September 27, 2000 that the CIA believes Iran's nuclear weapons capability to be progressing rapidly and suggests Iran will develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching London or New York within the next decade. CIA Deputy Director Norman Schindler is quoted as saying, "Iran is attempting to develop the capability to produce both plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and it is actively pursuing the acquisition of fissile material and the expertise and technology necessary to form the material into nuclear weapons."
By the summer of 2001, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was warning that Iran could have nuclear weapons by 2005 and that, sometime in the next decade, the Iranian nuclear program would reach a "point of no return," from which time "it would be impossible to stop it from attaining a bomb." By the end of the year, despite an inquiry into the questionable validity of Israeli intelligence regarding the Iranian nuclear program, Mossad head Efraim Halevy repeated the claim that Iran is developing nuclear and other non-conventional weapons.
In early 2002, the CIA again issued a report alleging that Iran "remains one of the most active countries seeking to acquire (weapons of mass destruction and advanced conventional weapons) technology from abroad...In doing so, Tehran is attempting to develop a domestic capability to produce various types of weapons — chemical, biological, nuclear — and their delivery systems." Soon thereafter, CIA Director George Tenet testified before a Senate hearing that Iran may be able to "produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of this decade...Obtaining material from outside could cut years from this estimate."
During his "Axis-of-Evil" State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, George W. Bush declared that Iran was "aggressively" pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
On July 29, 2002, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Marshall Billingslea testified to the Senate that "Iran is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons." Three days later, after a meeting with Russian officials on August 1, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham stated that Iran was "aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons as well as [other] weapons of mass destruction." By the end of the year, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was reiterating U.S. concerns about, what he termed, Iran's "across-the-board pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile capabilities."
In an interview with CNBC on February 2003, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said that Iran is seeking technological assistance from North Korea and China to enhance its weapons of mass destruction programs. In April 2003, John Wolf, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, accused Iran of having an "alarming, clandestine program."
That same month, the Los Angeles Times stated that "there is evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction," in a polling question regarding American attitudes toward Iran. The question followed, "Do you think the U.S. should or should not take military action against Iran if they continue to develop these weapons?" Fifty percent of respondents thought the U.S. should attack Iran.
The Telegraph reported on June 1, 2003 that "Senior Pentagon officials are proposing widespread covert operations against the government in Iran, hoping that dissident groups will mount a coup before the regime acquires a nuclear weapon." The report contained a quote from a U.S. "government official with close links to the White House" as saying "There are some who see the overthrow of the regime as the only way to deal with the danger of Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. But there's not going to be another war. The idea is to destabilize from inside. No one's talking about invading anywhere."
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken in late June 2003 asked Americans, "How likely do you think it is that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction?" 46% of those surveyed said "very likely," while another 38% said "somewhat likely." Only 2% replied "not at all likely."
An August 5, 2003 report in the Jerusalem Post stated that "Iran will have the materials needed to make a nuclear bomb by 2004 and will have an operative nuclear weapons program by 2005, a high-ranking military officer told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee."
On October 21, 2003, Major General Aharon Ze'evi, Israel's Director of Military Intelligence, declared in Ha'aretz that "by the summer of 2004, Iran will have reached the point of no return in its attempts to develop nuclear weapons." A few weeks later, the CIA released a semi-annual unclassified report to Congress which stated Iran had "vigorously" pursued production of weapons of mass destruction and that the "United States remains convinced that Tehran has been pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program."
By mid-November 2003, Mossad intelligence service chief Meir Dagan testified for the first time before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and said that Iran was close to the "point of no return" in developing nuclear arms.
In early 2004, Ken Brill, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA, reiterated the American position that Iran's nuclear efforts are "clearly geared to the development of nuclear weapons." One year later, on January 24, 2005, Mossad chief Meir Dagan again claimed that Iran's nuclear program was almost at the "point of no return," adding "the route to building a bomb is a short one" and that Iran could possess a nuclear weapon in less than three years. On January 28, the Guardian quoted Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz stating the same thing. He warned that Iran would reach "the point of no return" within the next twelve months in its covert attempt to secure a nuclear weapons capability. A week later, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on CNN that Iran was "on a path of seeking a nuclear weapon," but admitted that Iran was "years away" from building a nuclear bomb.
By August 2005, a "high-ranking IDF officer" told the Jerusalem Post that Israel has revised its earlier estimate that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 2008, now putting the estimate closer to 2012. The same day, a major U.S. intelligence review projected that Iran was approximately ten years away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, doubling its previous estimate.
Two weeks later, however, Israeli military chief General Aharon Zeevi contradicted both the new Israeli and U.S. estimates. "Barring an unexpected delay," he said, "Iran is going to become nuclear capable in 2008 and not in 10 years."
In November 2005, Mohammad Mohaddessin, chair of the so-called National Council of Resistance of Iran (otherwise known as the Islamist/Marxist terrorist cult Mojahadeen-e Khalq, or MEK, which is currently designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. government) addressed a European Parliament conference and proclaimed that the "Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is determined to pursue and complete Tehran's nuclear weapons program full blast...[and] would have the bomb in two or three years time."
On January 18, 2006, Donald Rumsfeld told Fox News that Iran was "acquiring nuclear weapons."
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey conducted in late January 2006 asked, "Based on what you have heard or read, do you think that the government of Iran is or is not attempting to develop its own nuclear weapons?" 88% of those polled said Iran is.
82% of respondents to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken around the same time believed "Iran wants to use the uranium for military purposes, such as to build a nuclear weapons program." 68% thought "Iran currently has a nuclear weapons program," an increase of 8% from the previous year.
CBS News reported on April 26, 2007 that "a new intelligence report says Iran has overcome technical difficulties in enriching uranium and could have enough bomb-grade material for a single nuclear weapon in less than three years."
In late May 2007, IAEA head Mohammad El Baradei stated that, even if Iran wanted to build a nuclear weapon (despite all evidence to the contrary), it would not be able to "before the end of this decade or some time in the middle of the next decade. In other words three to eight years from now." On July 11, 2007, Ha'aretz reported that "Iran will cross the 'technological threshold' enabling it to independently manufacture nuclear weapons within six months to a year and attain nuclear capability as early as mid-2009, according to Israel's Military Intelligence." The report also noted that "U.S. intelligence predicts that Iran will attain nuclear capability within three to six years."
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|William T. Hathaway|