Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Panic, Predictions and Propaganda:
Endless Empty Estimates on Iran's Nuclear Program

President Barack Obama waves as he leaves the stage after speaking at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013 (AP)

"As you know, Iran is just a week away from a nuclear weapon. 'They have been for the past 20 years...,' says people who would like to bomb Iran."
- Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, November 12, 2013


It has been three years since I published "The Phantom Menace: Fantasies, Falsehoods, and Fear-Mongering about Iran's Nuclear Program," a timeline of constant American, Israeli, and European assertions regarding the supposed inevitability and imminence of a nuclear-armed Iran - hysterical allegations that have been made repeatedly for the past three decades, none of which has ever come true.

So far, through August 2013, 80 updates cataloging new alarmist claims and dire predictions have been added to the original piece (they can all be read here). More extensive follow-up catalogs were posted in November 2011 and October 2012.

Over the past few months, new estimates and predictions have poured in. Below are some of them.

While reading, please remember that any estimate given for a potential Iranian "breakout" scenario in which Iran makes a "dash" for a nuclear weapon (or simply just enriching enough uranium to weapons grade levels for a single bomb) relies on the presumption that Iran:
1. has a nuclear weapons program;
2. wants to build nuclear weapons or acquire sufficient capability to be able to quickly develop a bomb;
3. and has made or will soon make a decision to militarize its fully legal, strictly safeguarded and constantly monitored civilian nuclear energy program.
Not a single one of these assertions is confirmed and there is overwhelming evidence that argues that each assumption is demonstrably false.

The consensus view of all 16 American intelligence agencies has maintained since 2007 that, by 2003, Iran ceased whatever research (if any) into nuclear weaponization it may have conducted up until that point, and has never resumed that work. This determination has been consistently reaffirmed ever since (in 2009, 2010, and again in 2011).

The United States intelligence community and its allies, including Israel, have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not even made the political decision to do so.

In early 2012, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, stated in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “We do not know…if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

The same day, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Ronald Burgess said that “the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict” and maintained that Iran’s military doctrine is defensive in nature and designed only for deterrence.

Clapper repeated this conclusion verbatim a number of times this past year.

Moreover, the IAEA itself continually confirms that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program and has stated it has "no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons program."(emphasis added) Beyond this, IAEA inspectors have never found evidence of illegal nuclear activity in Iran, even after Iran voluntarily accepted the intrusive inspections of the IAEA's Additional Protocol for over two years.

In November 2003, the IAEA affirmed that "to date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme." And the following year, after extensive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities were conducted under the auspices of the Additional Protocol, the IAEA again concluded that "all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities."

Even if Iran were to technically acquire the capability to make nuclear bombs and stopped short of militarizing its program, far from being a rogue outlier, it would be joining a nuclear club of dozens of other nations that currently have the materials and knowledge to rapidly produce nuclear weapons.

The alarming timeframes dished out constantly are all hypothetical, not actual. The beginning of each worrying countdown to any potential Iranian bomb must start after a decision is made by the Iranian leadership to actually start developing weapons grade fuel, which it is not currently doing.

It is like predicting it would take only a year to learn how to speak French fluently once one actually begins using Rosetta Stone, except without ever making the decision, let alone move, to actually buy the program. The year timeframe, in that case, doesn't make sense. You'll always be a year away from something that supposedly will take a year if you never actually start the process of accomplishing whatever it is.

As senior Iranian officials have confirmed constantly for decades, that decision will never be made (and if it were, the move to weaponize would be immediately detected by the international community), which means that the timelines are all fantasies based on a starting point that will never occur.

With this in mind, sit back and enjoy:


On September 5, Jasmin Ramsey of Inter Press Service (IPS) reported, "U.S. and Israeli fears that Iran could achieve the capability to dash toward a nuclear weapon by as early as 2014 according to worst-case assessments," though she added, "To date, the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Iran has not made the decision to pursue nuclear weapons."

Ramsey quoted Colin Kahl, Obama's former senior Middle East advisor at the Pentagon, as saying, "The issue then is not whether Iran will make the decision in 2014 to dash for nuclear weapons. We don’t know whether they will or whether they want to and probably the probability is that they won't, but they might."

On September 8, perennial Israeli hysteric Yuval Steinitz - currently Netanyahu's International Relations, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister - warned against Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's "offensive of friendliness and moderation toward the West," which he deemed to be a ruse to charm and deceive world leaders and the media and "calm fears over a nuclear Iran." Rouhani's real plan, Steinitz announced at an annual conference held by Israel's Institute for Counter-Terrorism, is to "laugh all the way to the bomb."

"The centrifuges continue to spin. The heavy water facility [at Arak] continues to work. Make no mistake; Iran must be judged on its actions, not on its words," Steinitz declared. If one were to judge Steinitz by his own words, however, one might point out that not a single one of Iran's centrifuges produces weapons-grade uranium, all are under strict international inspection, and that the operational heavy water production plant at Arak is not a nuclear site. The heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak, however, is still under construction and is not yet up and running.

On September 10, the routinely hilarious Gregory S. Jones published another speculative analysis on Iran's breakout capacity, again based solely on fantastical notions that Iran would be able to somehow convert its entire stockpile of low enriched uranium to weapons-grade in the blink of an eye and without detection or international intervention.

This time around, Jones uses a fancy calculator and elaborate daydreams to surmise that "Iran can produce enough HEU for a nuclear weapon in just six weeks and its entire stockpile of enriched uranium can be used to produce enough HEU for three weapons in four months." Moreover, Jones asserts that, were Iran to have some "clandestine enrichment facility specifically designed to enrich uranium from 20% to 90%," it could then "produce enough HEU for a nuclear weapon in just three weeks."

Jones writes that, while using a secret enrichment lair has the "disadvantage" of "violating IAEA safeguards," he points out that "the time needed for Iran to produce HEU by this method is so short as to make it very doubtful that any effective counteraction could be taken before Iran obtained a nuclear weapon."

The fact that enriching uranium to weapons-grade is not the same thing as producing a deliverable nuclear weapon is irrelevant to Jones, as are over a decade of consistent IAEA inspections and safeguards that have never once detected any move by Iran to militarize its civilian nuclear program.

On September 20, Reuters quoted Yuval Steinitz as saying, "There is no more time to hold negotiations" with Iran over its nuclear program. "If the Iranians continue to run, in another half a year they will have bomb capability," he told the right-wing, Sheldon Adelson-owned Israel Hayom daily in an interview.

The same day, in an apparent attempt to prove just how dedicated he is to spouting nonsensical propaganda, New York Times reporter David Sanger wrote, "Unless a good deal of the current infrastructure is dismantled, Iran will be able to maintain a threshold nuclear capability — that is, it will be just a few weeks, and a few screwdriver turns, from building a weapon. It is unclear whether Mr. Obama can live with that; the Israelis say they cannot."

Also on September 20, a post by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a right-wing, pro-war outfit that is effectively one of the neoconservative successors to the Project for a New American Century, declared that nothing - diplomacy, sanctions, threats - has caused Iran "to halt its drive to nuclear weapons-making capability. Instead, the potential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program has only grown."

The post, penned by Robert Zarate, continues, "Even if it is true that Iranian leaders have not made the final decision to assemble a nuclear weapon, Iran not only holds all of the raw ingredients required that for an atomic bomb, but also is making technical advances that could rapidly shorten the amount of time it would need to build a nuclear weapon to a matter of months, if not weeks."

On September 22, The New York Times reported, "American intelligence experts believe Iran is still many months, if not years, away from having such a [nuclear] weapon."

An Israeli intelligence assessment, leaked to and published by The Washington Post on September 23, concluded that "[t]he current Iranian charm offensive aims at reaching a deal with the international community... will preserve Iran's ability to rapidly build a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing — the so-called breakout option." It adds that Iran has continued to "move full-steam ahead toward attaining a nuclear weapons capability."

The same day, Brookings analyst Kenneth Pollack wrote in The New Republic that, were Iran's "enrichment capability" to be "capped and constrained by intrusive inspections" (which, mind you, it already is) and "its ability to work on weaponization is precluded by those same inspections," it would then "take Iran at least six months and probably more like a year to assemble a crude nuclear device, once it decided to do so, and it would be highly likely that the inspectors would discover such a gambit long before it came close to fruition."

In a one minute-long video message, issued on September 24, in response to U.S. President Barack Obama's speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Iran thinks that soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb." He added, "Israel will welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran's capacity to develop nuclear weapons, but we will not be fooled by half measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the world will not be fooled either."

On September 27, Maariv reporter Shalom Yerushalmi quoted anonymous Israeli "government security sources up to date on development in Iran" as telling him, "It's too late for Israel [to prevent an Iranian bomb]. Iran has crossed all the borders and all the constraints, and it has a first nuclear bomb in its possession, and maybe more than that."

The same day, Ehud Yaari, an analyst for Israel's popular Channel 2 TV News, said on the air that Iran was no more than "one to two months away" from having a sufficient amount of highly-enriched uranium with which to build its first bomb. He added that, if Iran begins using more advanced centrifuges, that timeframe could be cut to merely "two or three weeks."

On September 28, New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren wrote that Israeli and Arab leaders "worry about Iran's sincerity, and fear that Mr. Obama's desire for a diplomatic deal will only buy Iran time to continue a march toward building a nuclear weapon." Yuval Steinitz - who else? - was quoted as saying, "The most critical problem with Iran is its aim of achieving nuclear weapons, but the problem with Iran is wider. Iran is not a peace-seeking country or regime — on the contrary. Iran is maybe the most aggressive country in the world, and it’s not just against Israel."

Rudoren also gave space to other Israeli analysts who oppose diplomacy. Their "main concern now is that four to six months of negotiations would allow Iran to get to the breakout point for developing a bomb," she wrote, before quoting Jonathan Spyer of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya as warning, "It's not just that forever we go on with an Iranian nuclear program that never reaches conclusion, it's that diplomacy can be a way of helping it get to the finishing line."

Paper of record, people, paper of record.

On September 29, Britain's Sunday Times reported that, at their upcoming meeting at the White House, Netanyahu would provide Obama "with an intelligence report asserting that Iran has amassed enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon," according to the Times of Israel.

The same day, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told ABC News' George Stephanopolous, "Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues have been saying since 1991 -- and you can refer to your records -- that Iran is six months away from a nuclear weapon. And we are how many years, 22 years after that and they are still saying we're six months away from nuclear weapons."

"We're not seeking nuclear weapons. So, we're not six months, six years, sixty years away from nuclear weapons. We don't want nuclear weapons," he added.

The next day, on September 30, FPI board member Bill Kristol wrote in his Weekly Standard column that "the accommodation of the Islamic Republic of Iran's quest for nuclear weapons lies ahead as surely as the accommodation of Nazi Germany's expansionist dreams," and shamelessly continued, "As Iran moves closer to nuclear weapons, undeterred by the West's leading power, a 21st-century tragedy threatens to unfold."


On October 1, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview on Iranian television, "We have seen nothing from Netanyahu but lies and actions to deceive and scare, and international public opinion will not let these lies go unanswered."

"For 22 years, the Zionist regime has been lying by repeating endlessly that Iran will have the atomic bomb in six months," Zarif said, speaking from the United Nations in New York City. "After all these years, the world must understand the reality of these lies and not allow them to be repeated."

On October 4, Kurt Eichenwald wrote a cover story for the first online issue of Newsweek entitled, "The Phantom Menace" (sound familiar?), in which he called out all the speculation and fear-mongering over Iran as "hysteria," explaining:
Interviews with military strategists and foreign and domestic intelligence officers, and a review of the 34 years of warnings about the Iranians’ threat to America’s vital interests, all show that the doomsaying is based on suspicion, supposition and precious little hard data. It is, in many ways, a repeat of the supposed threat from Iraq that led to war – except this time, the intelligence world knows there are no weapons of mass destruction.
Eichenwald cites the view of Christopher J. Bolan, a former army intelligence officer who served as a national security advisor to both Al Gore and Dick Cheney and who now teaches military strategy at the prestigious United States Army War College: "Iran is not a threat to American vital interests. They don’t want nuclear weapons. I think it has just been overly alarmist when folks are advocating a more aggressive reaction," Bolan said "Even if they manage to get sufficient enriched uranium, it is going to be years before they can weaponize it. The timeline is not urgent. We have years, if that is the objective of the government, which, again, I think is a pretty questionable claim."

In an interview with the Associated Press on October 5, President Barack Obama stated that the current "U.S. intelligence assessment" maintains that Iran "continues to be a year or more away" from being able to produce a nuclear bomb. "And in fact, actually, our estimate is probably more conservative than the estimates of Israeli intelligence services," he added.

AP itself, in its interview of the American president, inadvertently revealed just how tedious and interchangeable these constant, recycled predictions really are. The question posed to Obama - the one eliciting the above response - was set up with the following statement: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Iran is about six months away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon."

This wasn't true, it was a misinterpreted reiteration of something stupid Netanyahu said a year ago. Note the correction issued by AP in its transcript of the interview:

Last year. Most. Needed to produce. All gibberish, signifying nothing.

On October 6, French Foreign Minister Fabius Laurent said in a radio interview with Europe 1 that nuclear negotiations with Iran must bear fruit quickly lest Iranian facilities be allowed to progress to a point beyond which they can be bombed into oblivion. If the heavy water reactor at Arak, for example, were to become operational, "we wouldn't be able to destroy it because if you bomb plutonium it will leak. This means it's a race against time," he said, continuing that there is "roughly a year" before this becomes a possibility.

The next day, on October 7, Reuters quoted an unnamed "Israeli official" in reaction to Obama's "year or more" timeframe as saying, "If Iran decides to complete uranium enrichment, it would be able to do so within a few weeks from the moment of decision."

On October 11, anti-Iran obsessives Mark Dubowitz and Reuel Marc Gerecht of the comically hawkish (and named) Foundation for Defense of Democracies published a screed in the Washington Post entitled, "Iran wants the bomb — and sanctions relief." In it, they claim that, even if Iran made major concessions on its nuclear program, it could still "develop a rapid, undetectable 'breakout' capacity...by mid-2014."

On October 13, MIT nuclear science professor R. Scott Kemp dissected Iran's hypothetical and wholly-speculative "breakout time" for the Arms Control Wonk blog. He provided a chart with various time frames, all measuring how far Iran would be from "a notional nuclear weapon's quantity of HEU [high enriched uranium]" if it all of a sudden made a decision that would contradict three decades of words and deeds. Here is that chart, which shows estimates from one month to a year:

In an innuendo-rich piece for NPR, which ran on October 14, 2013 with the title "Are Iran's Centrifuges Just Few Turns From A Nuclear Bomb?," go-to alarmist David Albright said of Iran, "In a month to a month and a half, it could have enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon."

On October 17, BuzzFeed's Sheera Frenkel quoted an anonymous "Israeli diplomat" as telling her that a nuclear-armed Iran "is not a far off possibility but a very near, almost actualized thing." In an exceptionally alarmist post entitled, "What If Iran Already Has a Nuke?" - which reads more like an Israeli Foreign Ministry press release than an independent news report - Frenkel writes of another recent Maariv article by Shalom Yerushalmi that claimed Israeli officials believe Iran already has a nuclear warhead.

"They made it very clear that Iran already had the uranium for one bomb, and it was very very probable that they had put that one bomb together," Yerushalmi told Frenkel. "This opinion is growing though many are afraid to say it too loudly because they would then be admitting that Israel, specifically Netanyahu, has failed the central mission of his political life."

Relaying what an unnamed Israeli official told him, Yerusalmi said, “This is no longer about how to prevent a bomb but about how to prevent its being launched, and what to do if and when.”

Meanwhile, Gary Samore, a former advisor to Obama and longtime pro-Israel hawk, told Frenkel, "We have seen a number of significant changes in the last few weeks that have suggested that Iran is closer, much closer to a bomb than ever before," adding, "We can't be precise about the timeline, nobody can because there are too many factors. What we can say is that they are very close and there is nothing standing in their way other than international pressure."

On October 22, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor delivered a speech before the UN Security Council during which he declared that "Iran is marching towards a bomb," and warned, "The clock is ticking and time is running out."

On October 24, David Albright and his colleagues at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) issued a new report estimating Iranian nuclear "breakout" capacity. They write that Iran could potentially produce one nuclear bomb's worth of weapons grade uranium (WGU) in about a month or two, depending on the specific stockpile and method used. "It is possible that Iran could use a covert plant to break out in as little as approximately one to two weeks," the report claims.

The authors also note that "the estimates in this report do not include the additional time that Iran would need to convert WGU into weapons components and manufacture a nuclear weapon."

This report was publicized in an error-filled USA Today article by Oren Dorell on October 25, headlined, "Iran may be month away from bomb."

The same day, Ian Bremmer, president of the consulting firm Eurasia Group, wrote a commentary for Reuters in which he stated, "Iran is getting significantly closer to nuclear weapons capability" and cited an International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report from August as claiming that Iran "is on pace to become nuclear-weapons capable in 2014 or 2015 — and that window could narrow further."

Bremmer added, "Iran is approaching nuclear breakout capacity, the point at which it could conceivably race to produce sufficient material for a nuclear weapon and hide it in a secure location before the U.S. or Israel could amass a military response to stop them. A realistic worst-case scenario could see breakout time drop to around 10 days — a span too short to assemble an effective response — by the middle of next year."

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said on October 27 that Iran's ability to enrich uranium to 20% was "superfluous" as, he claimed, "the improvements the Iranians have made in the past year... allow them to jump over the barrier of 20% enrichment and proceed directly from 3.5% enrichment to 90% within weeks, weeks at most."

On October 28, former IAEA deputy director Ollie Heinonen, now a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center and a reliable outlet for alarmist assessments of Iranian nuclear program that often track with both David Albright and Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israeli journalists that Iran could convert its current stockpile of nearly 20% enriched uranium "into the equivalent of nuclear weapon material in one month's time. That's a fact." He added, "I believe that if certain arrangements are done, it could even go down to two weeks."

Were Iran to hypothetically attempt to weaponize its accumulated inventory of 3.5% low-enriched uranium, that process "would take two months or slightly more, he said," according to a report in the Times of Israel. "But you still don't have a nuclear weapon," Heinonen explained, as preparing the weapons grade material for a bomb would still take another month or two, "assuming that someone has all the knowledge.

"After that, assembling an actual nuclear weapon that can be delivered with a ballistic missile would take perhaps another year, he said."


A series of infographics provided by the New York Times on November 8 used David Albright's hypothetical estimates to promote the dire assessments that "Iran has the technology and material to produce fuel for power or a weapon" and "Iran could quickly move to a nuclear 'breakout.'" The graphics, created by Sergio Peçanha, illustrate potential measures, outlined in the Institute for Science and International Security report, "that could elevate the breakout time to more than six months."

One of the graphics (seen above) shows Iran having 19,000 centrifuges, but does not note that roughly half of those, while installed, are not operational.

Writing in TIME on November 11, Karl Vick cited the recent ISIS report on Iran's estimated "breakout" capability, claiming that, under its current capacity, "Tehran might create a bomb in as little as a month."

In testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee on November 13, Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish, Iran-obsessed think tank, said that if Iran is able to continue construction of its heavy water reactor at Arak over the next six months, "Tehran will gain an extra six months to develop the capacity to produce a plutonium bomb." He added, that "while keeping all existing sanctions in place, Iran should be given an ultimatum" to suspend its enrichment at both the Natanz and Fordow facilities, where, he said, "nuclear experts estimate that Iran is no more than eight months from achieving an undetectable nuclear breakout."

The chairman of the committee, Congressman Ed Royce of California, declared during the same hearing, "Only when the Iranian regime is forced to decide between economic collapse or compromise on its rush to develop a nuclear weapons capability, do we have a chance to avoid that terrible outcome."

At the hearing, Colin Kahl, Obama's former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, made the case for diplomacy, citing ISIS estimates for emphasis. "The Institute for Science and International Security estimates it would currently take Iran as little as 1.3-2.3 months to produce one bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium using a combination of its 3.5 percent and 20 percent uranium stockpile," he said. "However, if Iran stops 20 percent enrichment and neutralizes most of its 20 percent stockpile, this would lengthen the breakout time for weapons-grade uranium to 3.1-3.5 months."

Later in the hearing, Kahl explained that, if accepted and implemented, the deal proposed to Iran by the P5+1, would thus "double Iran's breakout time."

The same day, November 13, top U.S. officials - including Secretary of State John Kerry, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, Vice President Joe Biden, and others - met with members of the Senate Banking Committee in a closed-door session to convince them of the benefit of working toward a nuclear deal with Iran and dispel rumors about potential sanctions relief floated by the Israeli government and their lobbyists in Washington.

Senator Mark Kirk, a leading Iran hawk who has stated, "It’s okay to take the food out of the mouths of the citizens" of Iran and who, in 2010, received vastly more money from pro-Israel lobbying groups than any other politician, was unhappy with what he heard from Kerry.

The presentation, Kirk told reporters after the meeting, was "very unconvincing" and "fairly anti-Israeli. I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service."

Presumably, he was referring to the same Israelis who have insisted Iran has been on the brink of having a nuclear bomb for over two decades now.

Kirk added that the Israelis had told him that the "total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days."

On November 14, Adiv Sternman of the Times of Israel wrote, "Responding to an International Atomic Energy Agency report claiming that Iran had substantially cut uranium enrichment since the election of President Hassan Rouhani last June, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said he was 'not impressed,' and that Iran still strives to acquire nuclear weapons."

Netanyahu continued, "Iran is not expanding its nuclear program because it already has the foundations needed for nuclear weapons. The question is not whether they are expanding the program, but how to stop the Iranian military nuclear program."

On November 24, New York Times reporter David Sanger - who has a dubious history of writing ignorant and incorrect things about Iran - doubled-down on his complete misunderstanding of Iran's nuclear program (or any nuclear program or weapons development whatsoever), writing of the "deep suspicion inside Mr. Netanyahu's government that Mr. Obama will settle for a final agreement that leaves Iran a few screwdriver turns short of a weapon."

Sanger also wrote that the just-inked interim nuclear deal, "according to American intelligence estimates, would slow Iran's dash time by only a month to a few months," and added that "it will take Iran several months to produce weapons-grade fuel from its current stocks, and perhaps a year or more to fashion that fuel into a usable weapon and shrink it to fit atop one of the country's Shahab missiles."

In a November 25 op-ed for the Washington Post about the tenets of the interim nuclear deal signed in Geneva between Iran and six world powers and the voluntarily accepted limitations on the Iranian program, ISIS head David Albright wrote, "If Iran used all of its installed centrifuges, the time it would need to produce a weapon would expand to at least 1.9 to 2.2 months, up from at least 1 month to 1.6 months."

On November 26, Siegfried Hecker, a fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, claimed that Iran was "[v]ery close, possibly weeks away from making sufficient highly enriched uranium bomb fuel, and six months or so away from building a nuclear weapon." He further suggested that "Iran had likely previously done most of the work necessary to build nuclear weapons once it obtained the capacity to produce bomb fuel. Iran's extensive missile development and testing program also points to Tehran pursuing the option of missile deliverable nuclear weapons."

On November 27, a report from the Israeli daily Maariv claimed "that Israeli experts have estimated that Tehran's schedule for nuclear enrichment has only been delayed for up to two weeks." The same day, The Independent published an interview with Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, in which Taub addressed his government's reservations about the interim nuclear deal signed just days earlier. "Our fundamental concern is that at the end of this six-month period… Iran is not going to be further away from being a nuclear weapons state – it might actually be closer to it," he said.

A summary of the report by the Israeli settler-run news outlet Arutz Sheva confused Iran's hypothetical capacity to enrich one bomb's worth of uranium to weapons grade levels with Iran's ability to manufacture a deliverable nuclear warhead, issuing the screaming headline, "Estimate: Iran Could Produce a Nuclear Weapon Within 36 Days."


In a grossly misleading and disingenous December 2 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz wrote that the recently-signed "interim agreement leaves Iran, hopefully only temporarily, in the position of a nuclear threshold power—a country that can achieve a military nuclear capability within months of its choosing to do so."

Speaking at the pro-Israel Saban Center's annual conference in Washington D.C. on December 7, President Barack Obama said that aspects of Iran's nuclear infrastructure "cannot justify simply wanting some peaceful nuclear power, but frankly hint at a desire to have breakout capacity and go right to the edge of breakout capacity." He later stated that, without an interim deal that slows Iran's nuclear progress, "all the breakout capacity we're concerned about will accelerate in the next six months... They would be that much closer to breakout capacity six months from now."

Later that day, John Kerry addressed the same conference and reiterated the White House line. "Iran’s breakout time, the period required to produce enough weapons-grade material intended for nuclear weapons, will have been increased because of our diplomacy," he said.

On December 10, Fredrik Dahl of Reuters wrote, "Last month's preliminary accord reached after marathon talks in Geneva is seen as a first step towards resolving a decade-old standoff over suspicions Iran might be covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons 'breakout' capability, a perception that has raised the risk of a wider Middle East war."

On December 11, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett had told Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to leverage its temporary membership on the United Nations Security Council to scuttle the nascent diplomacy over the Iranian nuclear program. After absurdly stating that "Iran is on the verge of having to give up its nuclear production because of the economic sanctions," Bennett said, "Our objective is to dismantle effectively all their centrifuges so the time they need for a nuclear break-out is not six weeks but three years."

On December 19, French Foreign Minister Fabius Laurent cast doubt on the ability to reach a final deal with Iran over the latter's nuclear program. "It is unclear if the Iranians will accept to definitively abandon any capacity of getting a weapon or only agree to interrupt the nuclear programme," he said, "What is at stake is to ensure that there is no breakout capacity."

In a December 30 interview with the Times of Israel, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said that Iran already has "enough in their 3.5% stockpile for more than four bombs," and that Iran could "breakout" as a nuclear weapons state in a matter of "weeks."

On December 30, former Senator Joe Lieberman, now with the right-wing ;American Enterprise Institute, issued his own rabid predication for the next twelve months. Speaking on FOX News, Lieberman declared, "tougher sanctions will not convince Iran to find a diplomatic way to end their nuclear weapons project and I think there is a better than even chance that before the end of 2014 the U.S. and/or Israel will take military action to disable Iran's nuclear program."


Despite so much incessant nonsense, the year thankfully ended on a high note. Writing for the indispensable LobeLog on December 31, 2013 - New Year's Eve - François Nicoullaud, a career diplomat and former French ambassador to Iran, addressed the claim that, with its current technical capabilities, Iran "would be able to produce the fissile material necessary for a bomb in just a few weeks."

"But what is the practical value of such estimates?," Nicoullaud rhetorically asks, before laying out some important facts:
First, having the material for the bomb does not mean having the bomb. Several months, possibly a good year or more, would still be necessary to manufacture and test a first nuclear explosive device. Second, to maintain a minimal deterrent effect after an initial test, at least two or three bombs should be kept in stock. To obtain such a deterrent, however, would significantly add to the time needed for enrichment to 90%. Some argue that as soon as this highly enriched uranium would be produced, and subsequently diverted, it would escape the safeguards of the IAEA, making it much more difficult for the international community to react. But why? The whole country would still be there, both as a possible target for increased sanctions and more. And if a few weeks are theoretically enough for a successful breakout, a few days should be enough to deploy and deliver an adequate response.
The entire article is worth reading, if only to rinse the awful taste of hysteria with some effervescent and much-needed rationality and honesty.

Just a day earlier, on December 30, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani published an article that was syndicated around the world. In addition to talk of rejuvenating the Iranian economy, improving relations with European and North American nations, and working toward a peaceful end to the bloody civil war in Syria, Rouhani wrote clearly about "Iran's peaceful nuclear energy programme which has been subject to enormous hype in recent decades."
Since the early 1990s, one prediction after another regarding how close Iran was to acquiring a nuclear bomb has proved baseless. Throughout this period, alarmists tried to paint Iran as a threat to the Middle East and the world.
We all know who the chief agitator is, and what purposes are to be served by hyping this issue. We know also that this claim fluctuates in proportion to the amount of international pressure to stop settlement construction and end the occupation of Palestinian lands. These false alarms continue, despite US national intelligence estimates according to which Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon.
In fact, we are committed not to work toward developing and producing a nuclear bomb. As enunciated in the fatwa issued by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, we strongly believe that the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are contrary to Islamic norms. We never even contemplated the option of acquiring nuclear weapons, because we believe that such weapons could undermine our national security interests; as a result, they have no place in Iran’s security doctrine. Even the perception that Iran may develop nuclear weapons is detrimental to our security and overall national interest.
Don't expect Rouhani's statements to temper the obsessive rhetoric so frequently published in our mainstream media. It would be imprudent to anticipate 2014 will see fewer platforms for anti-Iran propaganda in the press and less lies from Israeli and American politicians.

Nevertheless, with both the Rouhani and Obama administrations current and continuing dedication to diplomacy, we can hope that the new year will finally bring out a verifiable resolution to the ridiculous impasse over Iran's nuclear program.

Until then, the least we can demand is the truth and less scare-mongering.

Happy New Year, dear readers.

Let's hope it's a good one, as the man says. Without any fear.

War is over, if we want it.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Remembering the Gaza Massacre

Government ministry buildings destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on December 30, 2008 in Gaza City, Gaza Strip.
(Photo Credit: Abid Katib/Getty Images)

On December 27, 2008 – five years ago today – Israel launched a devastating military assault on the besieged people of Gaza. Relentless bombing and destruction continued for 22 days, during which time the Israeli army invaded the occupied strip, massacring men, women and children on a massive scale.

One of the first Palestinians murdered in the Israeli attack was Dr. Ehab Jasir al-Shaer. Al-Shaer, a dermatologist who ran a skincare clinic in Rafah, was killed alongside his uncle and cousin when an Israeli bomb tore through the administrative building they were visiting at the time. A short profile of Al-Shaer in The Electronic Intifada by Rami Almeghari not only describes him as “generous” and “ambitious,” but seeks first and foremost to reveal the unspeakable loss of life behind the startling death toll statistics of those three weeks.

“Ehab al-Shaer left behind a baby daughter called Rimas,” Almeghair writes. “He was the father of two other children.”
Almost 1,400 people were killed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli offensive lasting from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. Behind that statistic were 1,400 human beings, each of them somebody's son or daughter.
Despite obliterating entire families in their own homes and being found unequivocally to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, Israel – its military and leadership – has faced no legal repercussions, thanks in large part to the complicity and diplomatic immunity it receives from the United States government.

Five years later, little has changed. A UN report from November 2013 notes that, despite the minor easing of certain restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupying power, in the past year “Gaza has seen a deterioration in living conditions.”

“Once more, Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable,” Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), told The Guardian last month. “Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action,” he said.

Just this past week, as if to commemorate its half-decade anniversary of death and destruction, Israel again launched airstrikes into Gaza, wounding at least nine and killing a three-year-old girl.

While the press obediently presented these operations as merely responsive to rocket fire, the truth is that Israeli violence – whether from Israeli jets, machine guns or settlers – routinely precedes reaction and resistance from Palestinians.

According to a 2009 study, “it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first” following a ceasefire, thus instigating retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza. “Indeed,” the study concluded, “it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.” Last year’s Israeli bombing campaign against Gaza was no exception, nor are Israel’s actions this past month.

As exhaustively documented by the Palestine Center's Yousef Munayyer, since a ceasefire was agreed upon in November 2012, Israel has constantly and consistently violated the tenuous truce, time and again firing upon Palestinian civilians, closing crossings, invading territory and dropping bombs.

As a new year approaches, the plight of Palestine continues as it has for decades. Dedication to ending the occupation, suffering and injustice must be renewed, the lives of those lost remembered, and the human rights of all people recognized and respected.


Originally posted at Muftah.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time Warped: Repeated Rhetoric of Urgency from Israel to Iran

"You will be the death of me.
   You will be the death of me."

- Time Is Running Out (Muse, 2003)

Earlier this week, journalist and author Max Blumenthal posted an excellent piece in Mondoweiss detailing the repetition of the "time is running out" bromide, so often used in discussions about the so-called two-state solution in Israel/Palestine by those who promote the endless and pointless "peace process" as a way to disingenuously maintain the status quo of Israeli occupation, colonization, domination and discrimination.

As evidenced by his research, the tired talking points that "time is running out" and that there is a "window of opportunity" have endured for decades.

The very same rhetoric - not merely similar, but rather identical - has long been reused and regurgitated to continually set back the clock on the allegedly always-imminent Iranian nuclear bomb. Diplomacy, for over a decade now, has had a determined expiration date that remains ever out of reach; the doomsday clock is always ticking, counting down to disaster, the "window" for a negotiated and mutual solution to the impasse is always "closing," the "point of no return" nearly here, the apocalyptic repercussions of Western weakness and Iranian progress just around the corner.

In March 2006, NPR's national security correspondent Mara Liasson insisted on FOX News that "time is running out. Pretty soon, Iran is going to have the bomb."

The desperate urgency expressed in these statements - uttered endlessly by politicians, pundits and other assorted propagandists - inevitably favor the implementation of sanctions, the issuance of military threats, and the insistence on Iranian capitulation. If there is a time limit on talking, it is no wonder what happens when time finally runs out.

Back in April 2002, neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post, "Time is running short. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He is working on nuclear weapons."

Ten years later, a Weekly Standard opinion piece co-authored by William Kristol stated that the Iranian government is "committed to developing nuclear weapons" and that "time is running out" for the United States and Israel to act. "It's time for Congress to seriously explore an Authorization of Military Force to halt Iran’s nuclear program," the piece concluded.

Commentary Magazine's Jonathan Tobin warned soon thereafter that, without an explicit American military threat, "time may soon run out on any chance for the West to stop Iran."

Earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that "whatever time is left, there's not a lot of time," to stop Iran. This is nothing new.

As far back as 1992, the New York Times reported that, in light of accusations over Iran's atomic ambitions, the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin had the "sense that the region's nuclear clock is ticking." Then, in a 1996 speech before a joint session of Congress, Netanyahu warned that if Iran "were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind." Therefore, he said, Iran must be prevented from "acquiring atomic power"and lamented, of course, that "time is running out."

Fifteen years later, in May 2011, Netanyahu delivered another speech at the Capitol and referenced his previous admonition. "When I last stood here I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons," he bellowed. "Now time is running out, the hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons."

In remarks to the powerful lobbying group AIPAC earlier this year, Netanyahu insisted that, by engaging in multilateral diplomacy, Iran is merely "running out the clock."

Clearly, this has been going on for years now. Take a look at the headlines and clips below for a taste of what the mainstream media, various think tanks and lobbyists, and government officials have been dishing out for a decade. You're forgiven for thinking you're seeing the same thing repeated again and again, because you are.

AFP - October 29, 2004:

Voice of America - September 2, 2005:

The Washington Times - September 29, 2005:

Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) - October 2005:

U.S. State Department - November 24, 2005:

AFP - October 4, 2006:

Arms Control Association - November 2006:

World Jewish Digest - January 2007:

Britannica - September 22, 2008:

Wall Street Journal - March 17, 2009:

Ha'aretz - May 18, 2009:

Al Jazeera - July 16, 2009:

Bipartisan Policy Center - September 15, 2009:

The Telegraph - October 11, 2009:

FOX News - November 15, 2009:

NewsMax - November 27, 2009:

FOX News - December 2, 2009:

Yedioth Ahronoth - December 16, 2009:

New Jersey Jewish News - December 16, 2009:

Dalje - January 26, 2010:

Haaretz/Reuters - February 23, 2010:

FrumForum - April 26, 2010:

Jerusalem Post - November 26, 2010:

Washington Post - November 9, 2011:

Reuters - November 19, 2011:

Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) - December 14, 2011:

The Independent - January 28, 2012:

Washington Post - February 2, 2012:

CNN - March 5, 2012:

Los Angeles Times - March 14, 2012:

The Algemeiner - March 19, 2012:

The Guardian - March 31, 2012:

Jewish Chronicle - April 12, 2012:

Yahoo! News - May 8, 2012:

CNN - June 18, 2012:

Reuters - August 1, 2012:

Center for Strategic & International Studies - August 22, 2012:

Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) - August 31, 2012:

DPA - September 20, 2012:

New York Times - September 25, 2012:

Friends of Israel Initiative - October 10, 2012:

Voice of America - February 1, 2013:

Irish Independent - March 4, 2013:

Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) - March 5, 2013:

AFP - April 7, 2013:

Deutsche Welle - June 2, 2013:

Times of Israel - June 19, 2013:

Commentary Magazine - July 31, 2013:

Politico - November 17, 2013:

Just a few months ago, however, the ultra right-wing site WorldNetDaily announced some shocking news. Time, it appeared, had already run out:

WorldNetDaily - October 11, 2013:

Oh well. Maybe it's time for some new talking points.



January 1, 2014 - As proof of exactly how absurd this entire charade really is, an op-ed by former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon published in the New York Times on the very first day of 2014, uses the "time is running out" phrase about both the Iranian nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" - in the very same sentence.

Littered with Netanyahu-esque talking points and unfounded presumptions about Iran (the phrase "Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions" begins the piece and is repeated later as "Iran's nuclear weapons and hegemonic ambitions"), the money quote comes early on:

As is often the case with pathetic Israeli propaganda, everything old is old again.

Happy New Year.



February 20, 2014 - The rabid and obsessed Commentary editor Jonathan Tobin today combined the ticking clock canard with another favorite of the Israeli mouthpiece crowd, the "point of no return."

In his latest screed against the ongoing diplomacy that may see an ostensible end to the decades-long international nuclear imbroglio (an inconvenient and disastrous outcome for hawkish and conflict-reliant Americans and Israelis alike), Tobin writes that anyone who supports the talks "ignores the fact that far from being stopped, the clock continues to tick down to the day when Iran reaches the point of no return on its nuclear dream."



March 2, 2014 - When will this madness end?




Reuters - May 16, 2014:

UN Dispatch - June 10, 2014:

Washington Post - June 30, 2014: As multilateral talks continue between Iran and the P5+1 in advance of the upcoming July 20 deadline for either an extended interim agreement or a final, comprehensive deal, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken to the opinion pages of the Washington Post to pen a familiar refrain:

Associated Press - July 1, 2014:

BMI Research - October 9, 2014:



November 24, 2014 - From the past few weeks:

International Business Times - November 6, 2014:

Ha'aretz - November 12, 2014:

The Independent (UK) - November 17, 2014:

KQED Radio - November 19, 2014:

Bloomberg - November 21, 2014:

BBC News - November 24, 2014:



And again and again...

The World Post - November 26, 2014:

Washington Examiner - January 15, 2015:

Bloomberg - February 9, 2015: