Saturday, April 4, 2015

Netanyahu's "3-5 Years" Prediction of Iranian Nukes Happened in 1995, Not 1992

I'm sure you've heard this a million times by now: As far back as 1992, Benjamin Netanyahu was warning that Iran was only "three to five years" away from obtaining a nuclear bomb, arguing that such a threat "must be uprooted by an international front headed by the US."

Ever since the Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson included this decades-old nugget of alarmism his rundown of erroneous nuclear predictions about Iran in November 2011, countless articles and analyses have repeated it. Here's what Peterson wrote:
1992: Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the US."
Unsurprisingly, this blast from the past was immediately seized upon as perfect proof of Netanyahu's poor track record and weak soothsaying skills when it comes to advocating for American military campaigns by promoting false claims of regional WMD development. It has been reproduced constantly ever since. For instance, in September 2012, Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times, "It was in 1992 that he [Netanyahu] said Iran was three to five years from nuclear capacity." This past February, the New York Daily News noted, "Netanyahu has long warned Iran is close to nuclear capability. He said in 1992 that Iran was "three to five years" from developing a bomb."

In fact, it is difficult to find any article published about Netanyahu's hysterical obsession with the nonexistent threat to Israel by Iran's nuclear energy program that doesn't include this quote. The claim was given new life following Netanyahu's recent speech before Congress and has resurfaced dozens of times since in major media outlets like The New Yorker, Ha'aretz, Al Jazeera, and The Intercept, to name just a few. This past week, Nick Kristof wrote in The New York Times that "beginning in 1992," Netanyahu has "asserted that Iran was three to five years from a nuclear capability." In most instances, the quote is sourced back to Peterson's 2011 article, which unfortunately does not provide links to its myriad references.

Since 2010, I too have been compiling false predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuke. As I've documented, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have long been an especially rich source of nonsense when it comes to warning of an Iranian bomb that is always seemingly just around the corner.

However, Peterson - despite being an excellent reporter and meticulous researcher - got the year wrong on this one. Based on the historical record, Netanyahu issued his infamous "three to five" year prognostication in 1995, not 1992.

Sure, this may be a minor point, but in a media landscape where false facts are routinely propagated, both intentionally and accidentally, it is all the more vital to demand accuracy and accountability. This one mistake - potentially merely the result of a typo - has now become part of the narrative.

Peterson's error can most likely be traced back to former National Security Council staffer, now a professor at Columbia, Gary Sick's September 23, 2009 article in The Daily Beast, entitled "How to Keep Iran in Check Without War." In discussing previous American and Israeli estimates about Iran's nuclear capability, Sick includes the precise Netanyahu "three to five years" quote and dates it January 1992.

Yet, it was actually on January 11, 1995 - not in 1992 - when Benjamin Netanyahu told a nearly empty Knesset chamber, "Within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb, without having to import either the technology or the material," adding, "[The nuclear threat] must be uprooted by an international front headed by the US. It necessitates economic sanctions on Iran."

This was originally reported in a dispatch from Mideast Mirror (Vol. 9, No. 8) and was reproduced in the Jerusalem Post at the time. Later that year, Netanyahu repeated the claim in his book "Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat the International Terrorist Network," writing, "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."

Nevertheless, as Peterson's article has become the go-to resource for many writing about this issue, the 1992 error has since proliferated (forgive the pun).

Netanyahu's 1993 column
(Yedioth Ahronoth Archives)
Of course, Netanyahu wasn't silent on the matter before 1995. For instance, in an April 17, 1992 interview with CNN's Linda Scherzer, Netanyahu warned that "terrorist states" like Libya, Syria and Iran would inevitably "graduate from car bombs to nuclear bombs," but provided no specific timeframe for when this might happen.

On February 12, 1993, however, an Associated Press dispatch entitled "Newspaper Report: Iran Will Have Nuclear Bomb by 1999," summarized a report from Israeli daily Maariv, which quoted "experts who predicted Tehran would have an atomic bomb within six years."

One of these so-called "experts" was Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who had recently written in Yedioth Ahronoth claiming Iranian leaders had "repeatedly" vowed to acquire an "Islamic bomb" with which to destroy Israel. By 1999, Netanyahu insisted, Iran would have such a weapon.

Netanyahu's claim, while not attributed to him personally, was echoed by others quoted by AP. Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Oded Ben-Ami said, "We know the Iranian nuclear capability poses a big threat and a great danger," while Daniel Leshem, an arms expert who used to work for Israeli military intelligence, claimed, "The Iranians are investing billions in developing an infrastructure for creating material for nuclear weapons" and that "by 1999 they will have a bomb."

These assessments, while clearly both speculative and undoubtedly incorrect, make sense in context. In the early to mid-1990s, Western intelligence agencies - echoed by Israel - routinely claimed Iran would acquire a nuclear weapon by the year 2000, not by mid-decade. Netanyahu's own 1993 warning of Iranian nuclear capability "by 1999" and his 1995 assessment of "three to five" years is therefore in line with these predictions.

Reporting and commentary on Iran's nuclear program is often rife with errors. Fact-checking is vital, though seldom done with diligence. The minor, perhaps arguably insignificant, error made by Peterson in 2011 is indeed a tough dragon to slay - that little erroneous tidbit is ubiquitous when it comes to articles on Netanyahu's history of lies.

But accuracy is important. Writers and editors should always check, and double check, their sources (and sometimes their sources' sources).

There is no doubt Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to make outrageous and factually incorrect statements. Similarly, articles will continue to be written using Netanyahu's past claims as evidence of his delusional propaganda and the danger he poses to millions of people in range of Israeli - American - bullets and bombs. Many of those articles will refer back to the Christian Science Monitor's timeline of predictions.

Thus, Peterson's error should be immediately corrected so that these future references are accurate. There's already enough disinformation published about Iran and its nuclear program. It's long past time the media starts getting things right, even the small stuff.


Note: I too initially used Gary Sick's 2009 article as a reference for my December 2010 compendium of erroneous predictions about Iran's nuclear program, entitled "The Phantom Menace." In so doing, I originally rendered Netanyahu's "three to five years" quote as occurring in 1992, as Sick claimed. It was not until months later that I re-reviewed the sources and updated the article accordingly.

It should also be noted that, in September 2010, Paul Iddon correctly dated the quote in question to 1995, in a short post at Uskowi on Iran. Furthermore, in a rare case of due diligence in the mainstream press, Kurt Eichenwald correctly dates the same quote in his October 2013 Newsweek article, entitled, "The Phantom Menace." (sound familiar?)


Monday, January 12, 2015

Aliyah Rose: All French Jews Have Considered Moving to Israel, says Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg on The Charlie Rose Show, January 12, 2015.

Speaking tonight to Charlie Rose about recent events in Paris, Jeffrey Goldberg said that "there is already tension between the Israeli government and the French government" over the issue of Jewish emigration.

During their conversation, Rose brought up comments made Sunday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a speech at Paris' Grand Synagogue. Netanyahu -- who reacted to the horrific massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week with predictable, opportunistic propaganda and then crashed the memorial march in Paris after French President Francois Hollande specifically asked him not to attend, petulantly elbowing his way to the front, before making an ass of himself a few more times -- spouted a recycled mish-mosh of some of his lamest hits: "The radical Islamists do not hate the West because of Israel; they hate Israel because it is an integral part of the modern world," he bellowed. "We cannot let Iran achieve nuclear capabilities. Israel stands with Europe, and Europe must stand with Israel."

But it was another part of Netanyahu's speech that has received the most attention. "Any Jew who chooses to come to Israel will be greeted with open arms and an open heart, it is not a foreign nation, and hopefully they and you will one day come to Israel," Netanyahu announced to the congregation of French Jews, before concluding his speech with the Zionist chant, "Am Yisrael Chai! Am Yisrael Chai!"

Previously, in a statement issued following the Paris attacks, Netanyahu was even less subtle about where he hopes the allegiances of people of Jewish descent lie: "To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home," he insisted.

When Rose, who noted that Goldberg is very close with Netanyahu, asked his guest how the Israeli leader's comments were received, Goldberg said that French officials are "bothered" when Israeli officials call upon French citizens of Jewish heritage to leave their home and emigrate to Israel.

"The problem for France is that many, many Jews are going to Israel," he continued. "I've been traveling back and forth for months [and] I haven't met a single Jewish person in France who says that at least the thought is not at the back of his or her mind."

Though Goldberg's claim aligns with a front page article in the New York Times, what he didn't mention is the reaction Netanyahu himself got at the Grand Synagogue after finishing his remarks on Sunday. As can be seen on a video posted by Reuters (and elsewhere), the crowd broke into a spontaneous rendition of La Marseillaise -- the French national anthem -- much to the visible chagrin of the Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu's comments, and similar ones made in the past, were also criticized by Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, the largest advocate for Jewish organizations and communities in Europe.

Margolin expressed his irritation that "after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statements about the importance of aliyah [Jewish immigration to Israel], rather than employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe."

The rabbi said that "every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are," reported Ha'aretz, quoting from an interview with NRG, an Israeli website. The "reality is that a large majority of European Jews do not plan to emigrate to Israel. The Israeli government must recognize this reality and also remember the strategic importance of the Jewish communities as supporters of Israel in the countries in which they live." he added.

Israel's government "must cease this Pavlovian reaction every time Jews in Europe are attacked," demanded Margolin.

But Goldberg didn't think that stuff was important to mention.



January 13, 2015 - Speaking today in Jerusalem at the funeral of the four French Jews who were killed in a kosher supermarket in Paris last week, Netanyahu again repeated his plea for Jews worldwide to identify with the State of Israel, the 67-year-old settler-colonial state built atop the ruins and corpses of Palestine, instead of the countries of their births and ancestry.

"Jews have the right to live in many countries, and it is their right to live in perfect safety, but I believe that they know deep in their hearts that they have only one country, the state of Israel, that will accept them with open arms, like beloved children," Netanyahu said. "Today more than ever, Israel is our true home, and the more numerous we are, and the more united we are in our country, the stronger we are in our one and only state."

Israel president Reuven Rivlin said much the same thing. According to New York Times correspondent Jodi Rudoren, Rivlin addressed Jews in France, saying that "we yearn to see you settle in Zion," not "due to distress, out of desperation, because of destruction, or in the throes of terror and fear," but rather because "the land of Israel is the land of choice — we want you to choose Israel because of a love for Israel."

The "land of choice" is clearly reserved only for some, as the indigenous people of the land and their exiled, occupied, imprisoned, and massacred descendants continue not to have much of a choice at all.


Monday, December 22, 2014

With A Little Help From Tehran Bureau, Bad Reporting and Nuclear Alarmism Returns to The Guardian

Tehran Bureau/Digarban/The Guardian article from December 17, 2014

Last week, the Iran-focused blog, Tehran Bureau, housed online by The Guardian, posted an alarming headline: "Senior cleric: Iran has knowledge to build a nuclear bomb." The accompanying article, co-authored by Tehran Bureau's new partner Digarban, was posted below a guaranteed-to-scare image simultaneously containing three beardy clerics, two Supreme Leaders, and an angry looking partridge in a pear tree.

The report announced:
An official site belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has quoted a senior conservative cleric as saying that Iran has attained the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb but doesn’t want to use it.
The IRGC site of Kurdistan province today quoted Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a leading cleric who often leads Friday prayers in Tehran, as telling a group of IRGC commanders in Iran’s Kurdistan province that Iran had the expertise to enrich uranium not just to the 5% and 20% levels required for civilian uses but to higher levels required for a bomb. “[We] can enrich uranium at 5% or 20%, as well as 40% to 50%, and even 90%,” he was quoted as saying. But he said the Islamic republic believed that the building of a bomb is religiously forbidden.
Furthermore, Tehran Bureau boasts, "Khatami's speech was widely covered by the Iranian press, but the remarks about Iran's nuclear bomb-making capabilities were not reported."

What an exclusive! What breaking news!

Except not really.

Before addressing the details of the disingenuous reportage, a larger point looms. Tehran Bureau's headline and lede claiming that, according to a senior cleric, Iran now has "the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb" are not only irresponsible and misleading, they are genuinely incorrect.

The reporting wholly conflates uranium enrichment with nuclear bomb-making; this is absurd. Obtaining enriched uranium at weapons-grade levels (90% or more) is but one component of manufacturing a nuclear weapon, but one that pales in relative comparison to mastering the detonation process, requisite missile technology, and making a bomb deliverable. It's like standing next to a pile of steel, plastic and glass, and claiming an ability to make a Ferrari.

Iran has the technical ability to enrich uranium up to roughly 19.75%; it began enriching to this level in February 2010, under strict IAEA monitoring. By early 2013, Iran had already begun voluntarily converting its stockpile of 19.75% LEU to reactor fuel, a process rendering such material incapable of weaponization. Conversion of all remaining 19.75% stocks was agreed to under the multilateral interim nuclear deal struck between Iran and six world powers in November 2013. Earlier this year, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had completed the conversion process, leaving no 19.75% LEU in the country.

As is often pointed out, the technical capacity to enrich uranium to nearly 20%, "accomplishes much of the technical leap towards 90% – or weapons-grade – uranium."

Last year, Rob Wile explained in Business Insider:
Uranium enrichment has a kind of momentum curve, where it takes much more effort to go from 0% enriched to 20% enriched than it does 20% enriched to 90% enriched. Here's the chart: The vertical axis represents "effort" as measured in things called Separate Work Units, which is basically the given quantity of uranium measured in kilograms needed to reach a given level of enrichment. The horizontal axis is enrichment percentage.

By virtue of having functional uranium enrichment facilities and technical expertise to spin centrifuges, Iran - like any other nation with that technology - can create weapons-grade material if it decided to. But this doesn't mean it can already "build a nuclear bomb."

Moreover, Tehran Bureau's paraphrased quote from Khatami is itself misleading. The source of the quote can be found here, although Tehran Bureau does not provide a link over to it, a highly unprofessional reporting practice.

Mohammad Ali Shabani, a doctoral researcher at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), notes that the focus of Khatami's speech before the IRGC gathering was not the nuclear issue, but rather Iran's Kurdistan province and Syria. While Khatami is by no means an expert on nuclear technology, when he did touch briefly on the subject, this is what he said, according to Shabani's translation:
[But] even if we could build a bomb, we would not do such a thing as our Guardian Jurist [Ayatollah Khamenei] deems use [of such weapons] impermissible (haraam). The West's concerns are not about a bomb, but Iran's capabilities; just as our nuclear scientists enriched uranium from 5% to 20%, undoubtedly they can [do so] to 40%, 50% and finally 90%, which is needed in order to build a bomb, and they [Iran's scientists] posses this knowledge. Our role model is our Dear Prophet, who even forbade the poisoning of an enemy city, and this is our evidence [basis] for not building a bomb.
This is a political statement, not a technical declaration. Nowhere does Khatami state that Iran can build a nuclear weapon. Tehran Bureau's reporting also omits the fact that such statements about such scientific capabilities and the nation's official, absolute prohibition on nuclear weapons are nothing new for Iranian officials.

For instance, in February 2010, then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that "right now in Natanz, we have the capacity to enrich uranium at high levels." He added, "We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent or 80 percent but we don't enrich (to this level) because we don't need it."

A couple years later, in April 2012, The Guardian itself reported on a nearly identical statement made by Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghadam, a minister of the Iranian parliament. The framing in both that piece and the latest report are very similar:
Iran has the technological capability to produce nuclear weapons but will never do so, a prominent politician in the Islamic republic has said.
The statement by Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghadam is the first time an Iranian politician has publicly stated that the country has the knowledge and skills to produce a nuclear weapon.
Moghadam, whose views do not represent the government's policy, said Iran could easily create the highly enriched uranium that is used to build atomic bombs, but it was not Tehran's policy to go down that route.
Moghadam told the parliament's news website, "Iran has the scientific and technological capability to produce [a] nuclear weapon, but will never choose this path."
The 2012 Guardian report sparked false conclusions and predictable reactions from Israeli officials,  who eagerly exploited the non-news for political posturing. The following year, a number of different reports published by The Guardian contained bad analysisdubious allegations and sloppy journalism.

Unfortunately, The Guardian, now in partnership with Tehran Bureau, is at it again.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Iran's Ever-Ticking Nuclear Clock: Countdown to Nothing

Recycled rhetoric that sounds ominous, yet signifies nothing - least of all reality - is standard practice when fear-mongering about, well, anything. But especially about Iran's nuclear program, constant threats to bomb it, and the dire predictions of how soon Iran will have an atomic weapon.

Time is always running out on diplomacy, a military operation is always around the corner, and Iran is always just months away from decimating Israel and holding the world hostage with a single nuclear bomb that it isn't even making. The clock, we hear ad nauseum, is ticking.

With nuclear negotiations nearing their latest deadline in Vienna this weekend, we are hearing - once again - that it's "crunch time" for diplomacy and anything less than a comprehensive deal sets the stage for war.

While a fair and just nuclear deal would certainly be in the best interest of all parties involved, we've heard all this before. The "clock" has long been "ticking" when it comes to Iran, or so we've been told for over a decade now.

Starting with an AP story published today, here's a little trip down memory-hole lane and here's hoping that, come Monday and the inking of a multilateral agreement, this talking point's time will finally be up.

Associated Press - November 22, 2014:

Associated Press / The Columbus Dispatch, November 9, 2014:

New Europe - October 16, 2014:

Council on Foreign Relations, September 17, 2014:

Newser, July 15, 2014:

AFP, July 1, 2014:

The Globe and Mail, June 10, 2014:

SBS, February 19, 2014:

CNN, January 13, 2014:

The New York Times, November 25, 2013:

The Jerusalem Post, November 4, 2013:

Roll Call, August 2, 2013:

American Enterprise Institute, July 10, 2013:

Ha'aretz, April 21, 2013:

BBC News, April 7, 2013:

The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2013:

The Hill, March 5, 2013:

The Telegraph, December 26, 2012:

James G. Zumwalt, December 26, 2012:

Atlantic Treaty Association, November 7, 2012:

CBS DC, October 22, 2012:

The Sydney Morning Herald, October 2, 2012:

Foreign Policy, August 30, 2012:

The American Spectator, August 27, 2012:

Ha'aretz, August 14, 2012:

Albuquerque Journal, June 28, 2012:

Reuters, June 21, 2012:

National Review, March 2, 2012:

NewsMax, February 8, 2012:

New English Review, February 2012:

CBS Sunday Morning, January 15, 2012:

The New York Times, December 29, 2011:

The Weekly StandardDecember 19, 2011:

AEI Center for Defense Studies, December 12, 2011:

UPI, November 9, 2011:

The Hill, November 8, 2011:

Associated Press, November 4, 2011:

New York Post, January 18, 2011:

The Atlantic, August 20, 2010:

The New York Times, March 19, 2010:

Voice of America, December 6, 2009:

The Spectator (UK), December 1, 2009:

New York Post, November 16, 2009:

Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 2009:

Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2009:

Daily Motion, July 13, 2009:

Meet the Press, June 21, 2009:

Politico, June 19, 2009:

The Washington Post, March 8, 2009:

EurasiaNet, June 13, 2008:

Toronto Star, May 17, 2008:

Arms Control Today, November 1, 2006:

Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2006:

Institute for Science and International Security, March 27, 2006:

Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), May 26, 2005:

Dawn, March 19, 2005:

Voice of America, September 19, 2004:



November 23, 2014 - Yes, seriously.



November 24, 2014 - And this:

Also, the above Foreign Policy piece has been slightly updated to read more definitive:



November 24, 2014 - Apparently, time is up! What's next? Oh right, OVERTIME!

h/t Sam Khanlari



January 9, 2015 - A new year, but the same old talking points, this time courtesy of Ellie Maruyama, a research associate in the Energy, Environment and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, a DC think tank.



March 5, 2015 - George Jahn, the Associated Press' perennial neocon stenographer, has a new piece up about...guess what...?



March 16, 2015 - More "ticking clock" rhetoric from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry:

And more commentary of Kerry's "ticking clock" rhetoric from MSNBC, which interviewed noted Brookings warmonger Kenneth Pollock:



March 31, 2015 - Thankfully, CNN has managed to squeeze in one more ticking clock headline before nuclear talks are set to conclude this evening in Lausanne, Switzerland.