– in 1996, Netanyahu warned of the “catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” if Iran gained possession of a nuclear bomb, adding “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”
In 2009, according to a U.S. State Department cable published by Wikileaks, Netanyahu, then a candidate for prime minister, told a visiting U.S. congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from nuclear weapons capability.
Later that year, according to another cable, Netanyahu, back in office as prime minister, told another delegation of American politicians that “Iran has the capability now to make one bomb,” adding, “they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.”
In a 2010 interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Netanyahu said, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” adding, “that’s what is happening in Iran.”
Most memorably, Netanyahu appeared at the United Nations in 2012, with a poster of a cartoon bomb, drawing a line just under the wick to illustrate how close Iran was to producing a nuclear bomb. The fuse would be lit by the following spring or summer, he predicted.
In 2011, the Christian Science Monitor published a timeline of those predictions, including one in 1984, made shortly after West German engineers visited the unfinished Bushehr nuclear reactor. Jane’s Defence Weekly, a highly respected source of military information, quoted West German intelligence sources as saying Iran’s production of a bomb “is entering its final stages.”
Thirty-one years later, Iran is still — or perhaps again — on the verge of developing a nuclear bomb, according to what is being said repeatedly in Congress as well as by Netanyahu and others.
A National Intelligence Estimate report of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007 found no evidence that Iran was engaged in a nuclear weapons program. Another NIE in 2011 came to the same conclusion.
“Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” Obama said in his 2012 State of the Union Address. Barely a month later, he granted an interview to The Atlantic magazine in which he again said, “All options are on the table,” adding that the final option is “the military component.” Appearing at the American-Israel Political Action Committee Policy Conference on March 4, 2012, Obama gave the “military component” added emphasis, drawing enthusiastic applause when he said:
I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.
And as Congress pondered President George W. Bush’s path to war with Iraq in 2002, there again was Benjamin Netanyahu, with no doubts about Saddam Hussein’s development of nuclear weapons.
“There is no question whatsoever,” he told a congressional committee, “that Saddam is seeking and is working and advancing toward the development of nuclear weapons. No question whatsoever.” Recalling Israel’s bombing of a nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, Netanyahu added: “And today the United States must destroy the same regime, because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of the entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it, if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror network will have nuclear weapons.”
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq did not turn up those “weapons of mass destruction,” but it did bring about the destruction of Saddam’s regime and with it, the power vacuum in Iraq that opened the door in that country to al-Qaeda and has since given rise to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Good Ol’ Netanyahu
The Mossad briefing about Iran’s nuclear programme in 2012 was in stark contrast to the alarmist tone set by Netanyahu, who has long presented the Iranian nuclear programme as an existential threat to Israel and a huge risk to world security. In a report shared with South African spies on 22 October 2012 – but likely written earlier – it conceded that Iran was “working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate, such as enrichment reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given”. But the report also states that Iran “does not appear to be ready” to enrich uranium to the higher levels necessary for nuclear weapons. To build a bomb requires enrichment to 90%. Mossad estimated that Iran then had “about 100kg of material enriched to 20%” (which was later diluted or converted under the terms of the 2013 Geneva agreement). Iran has always said it is developing a nuclear programme for civilian energy purposes.
The former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who left office in December 2010, let it be known that he had opposed an order from Netanyahu to prepare a military attack on Iran. Other members of Israel’s security establishment were riled by Netanyahu’s rhetoric on the Iranian nuclear threat and his advocacy of military confrontation. In April 2012, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, accused Netanyahu of “messianic” political leadership for pressing for military action, saying he and the then defence minister, Ehud Barak, were misleading the public on the Iran issue. There were also suspicions in Washington that Netanyahu was seeking to bounce Obama into taking a more hawkish line on Iran.