How imminent, really, is the threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons?
When I was a teenager, I recall Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat regularly conjuring up absurd scenarios to anger his followers and distract them from the real task of making peace.
He accused Israel of mass-infecting Palestinian chidren with HIV to wipe them out.
And several times alleged that Israel was digging under the Al-Aqsa Mosque to threaten the foundation of one of Islam’s holiest sites. It was going to come tumbling down, according to Arafat.
You might remember these and dozens of other cockamamie charges.
Fast forward 40-plus years, and Palestinians didn’t get AIDS and the Mosque didn’t fall. These were lies to make sure Palestinians and the Arab world stayed angry and continued to support Arafat and his brand of dispute-based leadership.
It’s not much different today with President Mahmoud Abbas. He regularly makes similar stuff up about Israel, again distracting his people from making peace.
Which leaves us scratching our heads with how Palestinians can again and again fall for the hysteria every time. And stuck wondering which accusations are true and which are false.
It’s not to say that Palestinians and Israelis shouldn’t advocate for a just peace. But the dramatic nonsense gets in the way. Most Palestinian and Israeli leaders prefer the dispute over resolution. If they keep making horrific stuff up, then they won’t have to actually sit down and make peace. They can keep their jobs.
That brings me to the never-ending subject of Iran.
We know Iran abuses, jails and murders its own citizens. We know that they host Holocaust-denying conferences. That Iranian police pay visits to Jewish homes to harass them, typically arresting a few every several years on trumped up charges of spying. We too often read the pronouncements from Iran’s leaders that their genocidal goal is to wipe Israel from the map. And of course, the world is well aware of Iran’s financing of terrorism from Gaza to Yemen.
To allow such a horrific, maniacal regime obtain nuclear weapons, then, would be devastating to Israel and much of the Arab world.
The first time I was told Iran was on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons was in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president. We were so hyper-focused on the Soviet Union at the time, nobody paid much attention, but the warnings were clear. Stop Iran now or they will have nukes. U.S. Senator Alan Cranston took Reagan’s lead and in 1984 announced that Iran was seven years from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We know the ending of that story.
Iran didn’t get the bomb, despite the warnings.
Fool me once.
Then, in the 1990s, Benjamin Netanyahu gave even stronger warnings. He advised the Israeli Knesset (legislative body) that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”
Fool me twice.
Three years later, in his book “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years.”
Fool me three times.
Isn’t this when we’re supposed to get the hint?
In 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he warned in more striking terms, “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.” The part that stands out for me, now a decade and a half later, was Netanyahu’s pronouncement that “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.” That “extremely close” was literally 25 years ago.
Since then, I’ve read easily over 100 articles stating that Iran was six months or a year away from obtaining nuclear weapons. Even this very Times of Israel piece on December 5, 2021, titled “Nuclear Crisis.”
Iran, according to Israel, the U.S. and others, was months away from nukes in 2003, 2004, 2007 and virtually every year since then.
A 2009 U.S. State Department diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks revealed Netanyahu informing a visiting U.S. congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from developing weapons capability. Another cable from Netanyahu in 2009 told a delegation of American politicians in Jerusalem that “Iran has the capability now to make one bomb,” adding that alternatively, “they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.”
Then on September 16, 2012, Iran was “six months” away from Iran getting the bomb.
October 23, 2013. Iran was “months away” from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Additional imminent warnings came in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. Obama himself hinted the military option was on the table if Iran didn’t sign a deal.
Then again in February, 2021, Israel warned that Iran is “six months away.”
It’s literally the longest six months in the history of the world. Almost like they’re counting in dog years.
These claims by Israel, Saudi Arabia and others are the reason they contend that nobody can enter a deal with Iran. They claim a deal won’t stop Iran from getting the bomb. It’s the reason the military option is always on the table.
Now, let’s be clear. Obama was a great U.S. president, but his biggest failure was his participation in a deal that released to Iran about $50 billion in liquid assets held in foreign banks in exchange for nuclear inspections to stop the imminent nuclear threat. Billions we all knew would be used to fund its terror campaign. Billions to fund the terrorist, evil Hezbollah and Hamas. Billions to sew instability in Syria and Yemen. Billions to wreak havoc in the Middle East.
Nobody with a straight face ought to think that Iran is run by a trusted regime. Or that any agreement would be honored by Iran. Or that anything less than full unfettered access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and plans would be enough.
Still, we need to end the hysteria surrounding the supposed imminent threat. If there’s a threat, Israel, its Arab neighbors and the U.S. should continue doing what they’ve been doing with behind-the-scenes computer attacks and intelligence. It’s worked for almost a half century. Trump’s recent pronouncement that Israel would have been destroyed had he not backed out of the Iran nuclear deal is laughable.
No peace-loving person wants Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Not Israelis. Not Arabs.
But 40 years of hysterical lies have made it hard to trust the fearmongers. It’s impossible to know when Israel and its neighbors must legitimately defend themselves. Or when a military option really is justified.
Americans already know the painful cost the Iraqi chemical weapons lie caused. So many American soldiers lost. Trillions in money that could have revamped the American educational system. Or ended homelessness or provided drug treatment. Or turned America into the leader in green technology.
Israel shouldn’t fall for the same deception and distraction while too many of its own citizens struggle to live day to day.
Jeffrey Kass is an award-winning American author, lawyer, speaker and thought leader on race and society. He has written about issues impacting Israel for over 25 years.