September 30, 2012 20 Comments
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s constant, dire warnings about Iran convey one quality in great abundance: Sheer confidence. With an air of omniscience, he tells us precisely what the Iranians are thinking, planning and doing—even what they will do in the future.
This is, however, the same man who—with every bit as much outward certainty––declared that Saddam Hussein was “feverishly” developing nuclear weapons as he urged the United States on to an invasion that proved wholly unjustified. While Netanyahu’s assertions about Iran’s nuclear program are grave, it could be the gravest of errors to assume that what he’s saying is true.
Netanyahu in 2002: “No Question” Iraq Pursuing Atomic Bombs
On September 12, 2002, Netanyahu testified at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing titled, “Conflict with Iraq: An Israeli Perspective.” At the time, “conflict with Iraq” wasn’t underway; rather, it was being contemplated—and aggressively pushed by the Bush administration, Netanyahu and others.
Scanning his testimony, we find little to distinguish what Netanyahu told us about Iraq in 2002 from what he tells us about Iran in 2012:
- “There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons—no question whatsoever.”
- “Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can.”
- “Every indication we have is that (Saddam) is…pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption…that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened.”
- “…this is not a hypothesis. It is a fact. Iraq, Iran and Libya are racing to develop nuclear weapons.”
- “Mr Kucinich…it is simply not reflecting the reality to assume that Saddam isn’t feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons, as we speak.”
We now know his emphatic claims were emphatically wrong. That knowledge came at a terrible price—in American and Iraqi lives and limbs, and in more than $800 billion of U.S. taxpayer money…and counting. If Netanyahu was so categorically wrong about Iraq, is it wise to put faith in his claims about Iran?
Evaluating Today’s Claims About Iran
It wouldn’t be equitable to evoke the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf without acknowledging that, while the Aesop character’s first cries of “wolf” were false, his final one was not. Ignoring his pleas, the villagers’ inaction allowed a very real wolf to slaughter the boy’s flock of sheep. With that in mind, and given what’s at stake, we have a duty to carefully examine warnings about Iran now presented by Netanyahu and others.
Whether said explicitly or not, these justifications for pre-emptive war typically have three underlying tenets:
- Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon.
- Iran is genocidal.
- If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will use them regardless of the consequences to itself.
Let’s examine each one separately. As we do, bear this in mind: The question isn’t whether Iran’s public rhetoric is offensive or its human rights record highly defective—those factors alone wouldn’t be sufficient to wage war. If they were, we’d be bombing or invading much of the world.
Has Iran decided to build a nuclear weapon?
While 84 percent of Americans think Iran is already building nuclear weapons, the answer is actually no, according to:
- U.S. intelligence. American intelligence still adheres to its finding in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
- Israeli intelligence. Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that, according to senior Israeli officials, “Israeli has come around to the U.S. view that no final decision to build a bomb has been made by Iran.”
- The International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA, which inspects the nuclear operations of Iran and other countries that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, says it continues to confirm nuclear material isn’t being diverted to military use. (It hedges, however, noting it can’t assure “the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activity.” That is, it can’t prove a negative.)
While those who study Iran closest agree it isn’t developing a nuclear weapon today, some are concerned that its peaceful nuclear program could turn military, noting that the further its peaceful program advances, the faster Iran could pivot into military use.
However, those advocating the reinforcement of “crippling” sanctions, additional Israeli-sponsored terrorist assassinations of civilian scientists or unprovoked military attacks to send Iran “back to the Stone Age” should consider the possibility that their approach makes it more likely Iran will decide it needs nuclear weapons—as a deterrent…particularly when you remember:
- Iran has already seen the United States execute “regime change” invasions and decade-long occupations of both its eastern and western neighbors.
- The United States and Great Britain overthrew Iran’s own democratically elected leader in 1953 to replace him with a West-friendly tyrant.
Are Iran’s leaders bent on genocide?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is widely quoted as declaring “Israel must be wiped off the face of the map.” Time and time again, these words are offered as proof of genocidal intent, repeated not only by Netanyahu but by politicians, reporters, commentators and everyday citizens—the trouble is, he never said them.
What he did say, as he in turn quoted the Ayatollah Khomeni, was, “The Imam (Khomeni) said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” As Arash Norouzi explains in a detailed analysis of the sentence and its context, Ahmadinejad was comparing the Israeli “regime” with other once-powerful regimes that had fallen, including the Soviet Union.
In other words, he wasn’t calling for the annihilation of a population, but for the dismantling of a governing entity. That’s highly antagonistic language, to be sure, but it’s not genocidal—any more than Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “freedom and democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history” was a pledge to incinerate the Soviet, Chinese or Cuban people.
Iran’s leaders have made countless more anti-Israel statements, but when examined closely—understanding that Iran does not officially recognize the government of Israel, claims it was wrongly created and says it denies the rights of Palestinians—these statements likewise seem focused on the Israeli government and not Jews as a people. (The Anti-Defamation League maintains a catalogue of Ahmadinejad’s most provocative lines; review them for yourself in that light.)
Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory statements are also awash with contempt for “Zionists,” yet, significantly, not “Jews.” There is a distinction: “Zionism” refers to the nationalist movement which championed the creation of the Jewish nation-state of Israel. Underscoring that distinction, there are Jewish anti-Zionists who embrace Judaism but actively oppose the concept of the modern country of Israel.
Iranian leaders’ opposition to the formation and perpetuation of a government or country may be objectionable, but is it genocidal? Those who accuse Iran of genocidal intent must reconcile the fact that Iran has the second-largest Jewish population in the Middle East—behind only Israel itself—living peacefully and openly, praying in synagogues and even operating Hebrew schools and hospitals …and the fact that the Ayatollah Khomeni, after the 1979 revolution, issued a fatwa prohibiting the harassment of Jews and other religious minorities.
If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, would it use them regardless of the consequences to itself?
This question might be rephrased another way: Are Iran’s leaders rational and concerned with self-preservation, or are they impulsive and suicidal? After all, a nuclear strike executed by Iran or by terrorists it equipped would invite Iran’s own devastation.
Some argue that religious fervor makes Iran’s leaders indifferent to their own nuclear destruction—a notion that first assumes a certain interpretation of Islam and further assumes religious considerations outweigh Iranian leaders’ interest in perpetuating their own power and privilege. Even assuming those things, there’s a religion-rooted flaw in the hypothesis: In 2005, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, issued a fatwa declaring, per an Iranian government statement at the time, “that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons.”
Let’s turn again to those who have observed Iran most closely:
- “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.” Israeli Defense Forces Chief Benny Gantz.
- “We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor. They act and behave as a rational nation-state.” U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey.
- “The regime is a very rational regime. There is no doubt they are considering all the implications of their actions.” Former Israeli Mossad Chief Meir Dagan.
- “Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential one.” Former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.
- “We continue to judge that Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach.” U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
- “Iran is unlikely to initiate or provoke a conflict.” U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Ron Burgess.
Finally, while proponents of military action against Iran may find fault with many Iranian government actions and policies, can they point to a single one that demonstrates an impulsive, reckless, suicidal or self-destructive tendency?
A Citizen’s Duty: Focus on Facts, Question Everything
The case for preemptive war against Iran withers under close scrutiny, revealing that the common caricature of Iran—as a maniacal, fanatical nation bent on nuclear genocide—cannot be substantiated.
If the United States is to act justly and in a way that advances our nation’s true best interest and avoids shedding blood in vain, our policies must be rooted not in misinformed passion, but an objective evaluation of the facts. Regrettably, when it comes to Iran, its nuclear program and its implications for global security, the American public operates in a thick fog of myth and misunderstanding—so much so, that when the truth is shared, it sounds to many like a falsehood…or perversely, a sign of disloyalty.
A truly loyal American, however, relentlessly seeks what’s best for the United States. Doing so requires an unwavering dedication to learning the truth, and a never-ending vigilance against misinformation that flows both from honest mistakes and from purposeful manipulation by those advancing their own, separate interests.