Monday, November 7, 2011

Rattling Sabers & Beating Drums:
Fear-Mongering over Nuclear Iran Reaches a Fever-Pitch

"Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

- Joseph C. Wilson IV, The New York Times, July 6, 2003

"Its failings notwithstanding, there is much to be said in favor of journalism in that by giving us the opinion of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community."

- Oscar Wilde

[NOTE: It has been over ten months since I wrote, "The Phantom Menace: Fantasies, Falsehoods, and Fear-Mongering about Iran's Nuclear Program", a timeline of false U.S., Israeli, and European assertions regarding the supposed inevitability and immediacy of a nuclear-armed Iran, hysterical allegations that have been made repeatedly for the past thirty years.

Whenever new predictions and claims about Iran's nuclear program are released, I have added updates to my original piece. To read all past updates, click here. Culled from the past few months, here are some the latest.]

On June 17, 2011, U.S.News & World Report published a lengthy article by Purdue professor Louis René Beres and retired Air Force Gen. John T. Chain with the title "Israel's Options for Dealing With a Nuclear Iran." The writers claim that "Iran is closing in rapidly on full membership in the 'nuclear club'" and that "probably in the next two years, such membership can be conclusively confirmed." They then outline the various ways Israel could protect itself from an Iranian assault, completely ignoring the fact that Iran has never threatened Israel with attack, rather it's the other way around.

On August 3, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations Ray Takeyh wrote in The Washington Post that "[a] dedicated corps of scientific nationalists is committed to providing its country with the capacity to reach the height of technological achievement and, in the process, provide the mullahs with the means of building the bomb." Citing no evidence or source for his claims, Takeyh concludes, "Exact estimates vary, but in the next few years Iran will be in position to detonate a nuclear device."

On August 22, 2011, speaking at a luncheon at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, Republican Senator and second-ranking member on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee James Inhofe declared, "We know - and it is not even classified for me to tell you today - that Iran will have the capability of delivering a weapon of mass destruction to western Europe and the eastern United States by 2015. I see that as the most imminent threat to this country right now. So that is a problem we are going to have deal with."

On August 28, 2011, Reuters, in an article quoting a senior Israeli defense official as saying that "Israel would not be able to halt Iran's reported quest for atomic weapons with a single strike," also reported, "Recent Israeli estimates do not show Iran developing nuclear weapons before 2015."

On September 6, 2011, the editors of The Washington Post claimed, "Iran has taken two more steps toward producing a nuclear weapon," before completely misrepresenting a new IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear program. The editorial says Iran has "begun to use a new, more advanced centrifuge to enrich uranium, which could allow it to produce bomb-grade material in a much shorter time period, should it choose to do so" and is "creating a stockpile for which Tehran has no plausible legitimate use." It warns that, despite ongoing illegal actions (though not using those terms, of course) like industrial sabotage and assassinations, "the danger that Iran will become a nuclear power is growing, not diminishing," before declaring that "the grim reality is that Iran’s leaders have not been deterred from their goal of producing a weapon, and the project is making steady progress."

The Post also noted a study [PDF] by the Bipartisan Policy Center (a think tank established by U.S. senators) that warned of Iran acquiring the ability to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in a mere 62 days, "a timeline that could fall to 12 days by the end of 2012."

Writing in The New Republic, Iran hysteric Greg Jones estimated "Iran can produce enough HEU for a nuclear weapon in about eight weeks from the time it decided to do so," a timeframe that would "shrink to only about four weeks by the end of next year, as Iran's enriched uranium stockpiles and enrichment capacity continue to increase." Jones concluded, "The international community has no choice but to already treat the Islamic Republic as a de facto nuclear state."

On September 14, 2011, Reuters reported that British Ambassador Simon Smith had told the IAEA's 35-nation governing board in Vienna, "The absence of a plausible economic or commercial rationale for so many of the nuclear activities now being carried out in Iran, and the growing body of evidence of a military dimension to these activities, give grounds for grave concern about Iran's intentions."

The same day, Jim Garamone of American Forces Press Service wrote that Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told a gathering at the University of Miami, "Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons and wants regional hegemony in the Middle East."

On September 16, 2011, The New York Times published an editorial asserting that "Iran is still enriching uranium and refusing to come clean about its nuclear program." The editorial claimed, Iran has "greatly increased production of uranium to 20 percent purity instead of the 3.5 percent purity normally used to fuel nuclear power plants" which represents "a significant step closer to the 90 percent threshold required to make nuclear weapons fuel." The authors suggest the Obama administration should seek "even tougher punishments" than "sanctions and inducements" in order to get "Tehran's attention."

Barbara Slavin, writing for The Atlantic Council the same day in an article ominously entitled "As Iran Edges Closer to Nukes," states that although "Iran has not exactly been sprinting toward a bomb...the Iranian program – which Washington helped start in 1957 – is finally getting close to providing the wherewithal to make nuclear weapons." Slavin writes that Iran has amassed "enough material, if further enriched, for four or five nuclear weapons."

The following day, on September 17, 2011, Reuters reporter Frederik Dahl wrote of U.S. fears that "Iran and North Korea might covertly trade know-how, material or technology that could be put to developing atomic bombs." The report quotes Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as saying, "Were this traffic to be confirmed, that would deepen the suspicion that Iran is involved in nuclear activities which are clandestine and military in nature."

Speaking on panel on September 19, 2011, Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, opined that Iran "won't have [a nuclear weapon] tomorrow or next week or next month or a year from now," but noted that once Iran produces enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, his assessment holds that it would take Iran "six months to weaponize."

Also on September 19, 2011, Reuters reported that during an IAEA meeting in Vienna U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu claimed, "Iran has continued to engage in a long-standing pattern of denial, deceit and evasion, in violation of its (nuclear) non-proliferation obligations," continuing, "Expanding, and moving underground, its enrichment to this level marks a significant provocation and brings Iran still closer to having the capability to produce weapons grade uranium." French Industry Minister Eric Besson was also quoted as telling the meeting that Iran's nuclear program "poses an unacceptable threat to the regime of non-proliferation and to regional stability," while the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, Shaul Chorev told member states, "Israel has no doubt that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons."

On September 21, 2011, in advance of Barack Obama's speech to the United Nations General Assembly, war-mongering walrus John Bolton lamented in The National Interest that Iran has "marched inexorably forward with its nuclear weapons program."

Addressing the UN three days later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his most dire of warnings (which he's been making since at least 1995) about an Iranian nuclear weapon. "The greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction," he said, apparently unaware of the obvious irony of the leader of a self-described "Jewish State" claiming to speak on behalf of all Jewish people on the planet and colonizing Palestine on the pretense of a Biblical land deed and divine decree which has stockpiled upwards of 400 nuclear weapons yet refuses to official acknowledge their existence and preventing international monitoring and supervision. He continued, "The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons," and asked, "Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?"

David Albright of D.C. think tank Institute for Science and International Security and longtime Iran alarmist, was quoted in The Australian on September 26, 2011 as saying, "We believe if Iran broke out now they could have a bomb in six months," continuing, "They've done this right in front of our faces."

Reuters published an extensive analysis entitled "How close is Iran to the bomb?" on September 28, 2011 which noted, "Either Iran could build a nuclear bomb in a matter of months or it is unlikely to get such a weapon any time soon -- depending on which Western expert you talk to." In the article, Frederik Dahl writes that "Western-based analysts generally agree with their governments that Tehran is developing technology that could be used to make a bomb, but they disagree about just how close it is to success," citing various estimates from Greg Jones' two month timeline to Shannon Kile, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who said, "I just don't see how you can credibly say they are going to be eight weeks away or even 18 months away." The report states Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), estimates "Iran could make a nuclear weapon in less than two years' time."

On October 3, 2011, writing in the Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz insisted, "As Iran continues its development of a nuclear weapon, Israel is growing more concerned that the Islamic Republic will embrace a policy of ambiguity, similar to the policy upheld in Israel regarding its own alleged nuclear capabilities." He added, "General assessments are that if it so decides, it would take Iran just a number of months for it to enrich a sufficient quantity of uranium to over the 90% that would be required for one nuclear device."

On October 4, 2011, Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported former Mossad chief Meir Dagan had told the Council for Peace and Security that "Iran's nuclear program was still far from the point of no return."

The same day, new U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was visiting Israel at the time, said during a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak, "We are very concerned [about Iran] and the best approach for dealing with this threat is for all of us to make it clear to them that they cannot proceed on the path that they are on. We will work together to do whatever is necessary to make sure that they do not represent a threat to this region and it depends on countries working together."

On October 16, 2011, a New York Times report by David Sanger and Mark Lander stated, "President Obama is pressing United Nations nuclear inspectors to release classified intelligence information showing that Iran is designing and experimenting with nuclear weapons technology."

"Reza Kahlili," a former CIA spy claiming to have intimate knowledge of the Iranian nuclear program, wrote in The Washington Times on October 27, 2011, "The pressure the United States and the West is bringing to bear on Iran to keep it from acquiring nuclear weapons is all for naught. Not only does the Islamic Republic already have nuclear weapons from the old Soviet Union, but it has enough enriched uranium for more. What's worse, it has a delivery system."

"Kahlili" claimed that Mathew Nasuti, a former U.S. Air Force captain and State Department adviser, attended a March 2008 briefing in which a "Middle East expert" said "it was 'common knowledge' that Iran had acquired tactical nuclear weapons from one or more of the former Soviet republics" and also that "Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, an experienced intelligence officer and recipient of a Bronze Star, told me that his sources say Iran has two workable nuclear warheads." He also writes that Iran has "enough enriched uranium for six nuclear bombs," before calling for a military strike on Iran "before it's too late."

In a bizarre article, published in Ha'aretz on October 28, 2011, Louis René Beres, Leon Edney, and Thomas G. McInerney advocate for a coordinated, unprovoked military attack on Iran as an act of preemptive self-defense from "the genuinely existential risks posed in the 21st century by a nuclear Iran." The authors write that although "Israel is the country at greatest risk from Iranian nuclear weapons," the U.S. "is presently the only country that has the operational capability to undertake a successful preemptive mission to remove Iran's covert and illegal nuclear weapons program." The spooky conclusion is simple: "[I]f there is not an American defensive strike on Iran...[there will] be a fully nuclear Iran, led by irrational Shiite clerics." (Purdue professor Beres chaired Project Daniel in Israel, Edney was vice chief of U.S. naval operations, a NATO supreme allied commander and commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, and McInerney served U.S. Air Force vice chief of staff, deputy chief of staff for operations and intelligence and vice commander-in-chief at the U.S. Air Force headquarters in Europe.)

The same day, the English-language website of Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Defense Ministry Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs Amos Gilad told students at Ashkelon College, "At the moment, there is no immediate nuclear threat, but there is definitely a great deal of motivation and determination for it," before noting, "Today the status is that they are at the starting point – they have uranium, they have the knowledge but they don't create (missiles) because of media publicity which is not initiated by them." Gilad declared, "The whole world is against the Iranians, the sanctions are effective, but it doesn't change Iran's strategic direction or their motivation. Iran is determined to obtain nuclear weapons and that is a major threat to Israel. If they achieve their goal it would be major game changer," as it would upset the current "balance of power" in the region.

During an October 30, 2011 interview with Christiane Amanpour on ABC's This Week, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann claimed, "Iran has also stated they would be willing to use a nuclear weapon against the United States of America," despite the fact that fewer things could be further from the truth.

On October 31, 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again warned of an ongoing Iranian nuclear weapons program and told the Knesset, "A nuclear Iran poses a heavy threat to the entire world – and to Israel in particular."

A report by Ha'aretz on Netanyahu's push for an Israeli assault on Iran published on November 2, 2011, stated, "Western intelligence officials agree that Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear program. Intelligence services now say it will take Iran two or three years to get the bomb once it decides to (it hasn't made the decision yet )."

The same day, Damien McElroy and Alex Spillius of The Daily Telegraph claimed, "Iran is on course to build nuclear weapons, according to evidence compiled by United Nations inspectors." A new IAEA report, due out this week, "is likely to take the Middle East a step closer to a nuclear arms race," the report stated. The article, entitled "Iran making nuclear arms," included a quote from an unnamed Western diplomat declaring that the IAEA's upcoming assessment "makes an inescapable case that Iran has ambitions to militarise the uranium it has been enriching at its production facilities."

Another Daily Telegraph article, written the next day by Con Coughlin, stated that "Iran is on the verge of getting the Bomb," and called upon President Obama to "act," accusing him of failing to take "meaningful curtail Iran's obsession with developing nuclear weapons." Coughlin claims the pending IAEA report "will demonstrate unequivocally that Iran is well on the way to acquiring nuclear weapons" and "will show that the country is seeking to engineer and test components that are only used in the production of nuclear weapons." According to Coughlin, "The inescapable conclusion is that, for all Tehran’s protestations that its nuclear intentions are entirely peaceful, the ayatollahs are close to achieving their long-held ambition of joining the exclusive club of nuclear-armed powers," a development he suggests will have "apocalyptic implications."

Also on November 3, 2011, Richard Norton-Taylor wrote in The Guardian, "The suggestion is that there is a 'window' now that would enable Israel on its own to strike Iran's nuclear sites. Next year, the 'window' would be left open to the US (and the UK) before Iran's nuclear weapons reached the point of no return."

Writing in Ha'aretz the same day, Ari Shavit waxed philosophically, "For the past decade it has been clear that we are facing an Iranian deadline. Time after time the deadline has been put off. But it is real and it is imminent. Unless an international miracle, or an interior-Iranian miracle takes place, we will reach the crossroads." Wondering whether Israel should "launch a military offensive or...emerge from nuclear ambiguity," Shavit worries, "If Israel is late to act in Iran, the implications could be critical to our survival. A nuclear bomb in the hands of fanatic Muslims could change our life entirely and could shorten our life span."

On November 5, 2011, a BBC report revealed that the IAEA "is planning to reveal evidence that Iran has been working secretly to develop a nuclear weapons capability, diplomats say," and that "the evidence is said to include intelligence that Iran made computer models of a nuclear warhead" along with "satellite images of what the IAEA believes is a large steel container used for high-explosives tests related to nuclear arms."

The Washington Post's Joby Warrick and Thomas Erdbrink wrote on November 6, 2011, "Intelligence provided to U.N. nuclear officials shows that Iran's government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, receiving assistance from foreign scientists to overcome key technical hurdles, according to Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings." Warrick writes that according to ISIS's David Albright, "in 2003, Iranian scientists worked concurrently across multiple disciplines to obtain key skills needed to make and test a nuclear weapon that could fit inside the country’s long-range missiles." Furthermore, during a PowerPoint presentation, "Albright said IAEA officials, based on the totality of the evidence given to them, have concluded that Iran 'has sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device.'"

Also on November 6, 2011, Israeli President Shimon Peres told AFP that "an attack on Iran" by Israel and other countries was "more and more likely," and that "The intelligence services of the different countries that are keeping an eye on (Iran) are worried and putting pressure on their leaders to warn that Iran is ready to obtain the nuclear weapon."

A report from Ha'aretz's Yossi Melman stated, "Iran is pursuing its nuclear weapons program at the Parchin military base about 30 kilometers from Tehran, diplomatic sources in Vienna say." The article continued, "According to recent leaks, Iran has carried out experiments in the final, critical stage for developing nuclear weapons - weaponization. This includes explosions and computer simulations of explosions. The Associated Press and other media outlets have reported that satellite photos of the site reveal a bus-sized container for conducting experiments."

The same day, November 6, 2011, The New York Times's resident fear-monger David Sanger published a lengthy article entitled "America's Deadly Dynamics With Iran" in which he claimed that, despite the recent covert war against the Islamic Republic conducted via computer viruses and murder of Iranian scientists, "The Iranians are digging their plants deeper underground, and enriching uranium at purities that will make it easier to race for a bomb. When Barack Obama was sworn into office, they had enough fuel on hand to produce a single weapon; today, by the I.A.E.A.'s own inventory, they have enough for at least four."

Additionally, Sanger quotes an unnamed "American official" as saying, "And there are reasons to wonder whether, in the end, this shadow war is simply going to delay the inevitable: an Iranian bomb or, more likely, an Iranian capability to assemble a fairly crude weapon in a matter of weeks or months." In what one can only hope is a ridiculously sloppy typo, Sanger also claims that the director of Iran's atomic energy program Fereydoon Abbasi, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt late last year, "travels the world offering assurances that Iran's interest in nuclear weapons is peaceful."

The following day, November 7, 2011, Sanger was back, this time with fellow alarmist William Broad, to report, "Details leaking out about an imminent report by United Nations weapons inspectors suggest they have the strongest evidence yet that Iran has worked in recent years on a kind of sophisticated explosives technology that is primarily used to trigger a nuclear weapon, according to Western officials who have been briefed on the intelligence," before adding, "But the case is hardly conclusive."

Yossi Melman also wrote in Ha'aretz, using wire reports, that "Iran has already acquired the knowledge, technology, and resources to create a nuclear bomb within months, according to Western experts who were briefed on the intelligence information due to be released in this week's report by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency." He added, "Haaretz reported last week that other experts also estimated that Iran could assemble a nuclear bomb within months and carry out an underground nuclear experiment if it wishes to do so. The decision to assemble the weapon is effectively in the hands of Iranian leaders, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the helm."

Also on November 7, 2011, The Washington Post's neoconservative, Likudnik blogger Jennifer Rubin quoted Iran hawk Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies as telling her that "[Iranian head of state] Ali Khamenei appears to have decided that a nuclear bomb is a guarantor of regime survival and seems in no mood to compromise," adding that the still unreleased IAEA report "suggests that Iran is now on the brink of nuclear capability."

With so much hysteria and hype, the IAEA report to be released this week will surely be anti-climactic. Iran has long stated that these allegations of nuclear weapons work are fabricated, a claim bolstered by the fact that the United States - which supplied the IAEA with the supposedly damning documents - has long refused to show original copies to either the IAEA or Iran.

Fever-pitched reports of an imminent Israeli attack have been surfacing in the press for decades. And, while both NATO and Russia have declared its opposition to a military strike on Iran, recent reports still raise the specter of a coordinated assault by Israel, the US, Britain, and France, supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf client states.

As the U.S. Congress follows AIPAC's lead to scuttle any chance for diplomacy in an ongoing effort to urge the Obama administration to attack Iran and a reported 41% of Israelis supportive of an assault by its own military, and the endless rhetoric declaring Iran an irrational, genocidal, suicidal martyr state fueled by "extreme fundamentalism," bellicose aggressor and "existential threat," it is instructive to recall - amidst the din of Western saber-rattling and beating Israel war drums - what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Al Jazeera correspondent during an interview in Tehran less than a month ago:
"We will never enter any war against the U.S. or against any other country. This is our policy...We have never attacked anybody. Why should we do that? Why should we start a war?"
Why indeed?


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