The Israeli Likud Party’s cover story for why it wants to draw the United States into a war with Iran makes no real sense. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been predicting an Iranian nuclear bomb since 1992 (a time when Iran had no nuclear program at all), and he has been wrong for 15 years in a row. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and other Israeli officials have said publicly that Iran has not decided to go for a nuclear weapon. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given more than one fatwa or formal religious ruling that making and stockpiling nuclear weapons are forbidden in Islamic law. Netanyahu is in a position similar to that of someone who wants to argue that Pope Benedict XVI secretly has a condom factory operating in the Vatican.
Iran isn’t, contrary to what Netanyahu alleged, a year away from having a nuclear weapon. Iran can’t construct a nuclear weapon at all as long as it is being actively inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which it is (and yes, including the Fordo facility). There is no facility with uranium or enrichment facilities that is off limits to the IAEA inspectors. No country under active inspection by the UN has ever developed a nuclear weapon. Israel, which always refused such inspections, has some 400 nuclear warheads.
The dark green below is the Occupied Palestinian Territories that Israel controls:
So what is really driving all this noise about Iran? It is the Israeli right wing’s competition with the Palestinians. In the past few years, Israel has vastly expanded the number of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank:
Israeli squatters, backed by Netanyahu, are attempting to make a Palestinian state impossible. Netanyahu’s plan is to keep the Palestinians (some 12 million strong, 4 million of them in the Occupied Territories) stateless and without citizenship rights forever. People without a state have no institutions that would enforce their claims on property or on basic human rights, and so they are open to being treated, in a way, like slaves and constantly stolen from, as the Palestinians are.
Israel’s policy has long been to use its close relationship with the United States to domesticate or destroy any country in the region that gives hope to the Palestinians that they might one day get their own state. (Earlier in the conflict, maximalist claims against Israel were common, but for all practical purposes Palestinian statehood is what is at issue since the early 1990s). The Israeli military, backed and resupplied by the US, beat Egypt and Jordan into accepting a separate peace. Lebanon’s economy was destroyed more than once. Netanyahu argued hard for a US war on Iraq, and the American Neocons who fomented that war began by writing a position paper for Netanyahu himself arguing for an invasion of Iraq. Iraq was no match for nuclear-armed Israel, but it was perceived as giving moral support to and raising the morale of Palestinians resisting Israel’s vast theft of their lands. Iraq had to be broken.
Now, Iran is more or less the last man standing. Iran, and its unstable ally, Baathist Syria, are the only major Middle Eastern countries that strongly support the Palestinians, though admittedly more in speeches than practically. The rest have either given in (Egypt, Jordan) or de facto acquiesced in Israel expansionism into the West Bank. Iran’s defiance gives the Palestinians, especially those with a fundamentalist religious cast of mind, hope. (The extremeness of Iran’s position on Israel is unhelpful in fact to Palestinian aspirations, but it is a psychological plus for a beaten-down people).
Netanyahu wants to remove all hope from the Palestinians, so as to keep them permanently stateless and to ensure that their land is available for Israeli encroachment.
The Iran bogeyman is Netanyahu’s way of changing the conversation, of making sure that his Occupation of the Palestinian territories is never brought up. The US and Europe, who pay lip service to a ‘peace process’ in actual fact go along with the continued Occupation and ongoing expropriation of the Palestinians, and seem to fall for the Iran misdirection.
Likewise, an opinion poll some years ago found that a third of Israelis said they would emigrate and leave their country if Iran achieved a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu is in a demographic race with the Palestinians, and Iran as a rejectionist state is a negative in this psychological warfare. Ehud Barak once admitted his fears that if Israeli Jewish out-migration began exceeding Jewish immigration to Israel every year, it would endanger the Jewish character of the state. Iran’s nuclear enrichment program makes Israelis nervous.
The real struggle is on this psychological plane. There is little actual reason for Netanyahu to be as alarmed by the current Iranian civilian enrichment program as he professes to be. The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly certified, and continues to certify, that Iran has diverted *no* uranium to a weapons program. It is all civilian. Most enriched Iranian uranium is only enriched to 3.5%, which is enough for fueling a power plant to generate electricity but not for a bomb, which typically needs 95% enrichment. Iran has also enriched some uranium to 19.75%, still considered low-enriched uranium, for its medical reactor, so that it can treat cancer patients. The stock of 19.75% enriched uranium makes Israeli hawks nervous because it could be fed back through centrifuges (assuming there were no UN inspectors or inspections) and enriched to 95% for a bomb more quickly than is the case with 3.5% enriched uranium. But Iran has just turned half of its 19.75% LEU into plates for fueling the medical reactor, actually reducing that stock (as Tehran all along said it would). As others have pointed out, that is not how a nation would behave if it was seeking a bomb.
So how will we know if Iran has decided to weaponize its nuclear enrichment program? We can at least be suspicious if they withdraw from the NPT and kick out the inspectors. That is the red line, not the one Netanyahu drew on his silly drawing of a cartoon bomb. There are no secret big enrichment facilities because they would require large amounts of electricity and water and could easily be spotted by US intelligence and satellites.
The arguments Netanyahu and his fellow traveling warmongers make are bewildering. They say Iran will give a bomb to terrorist organizations. Iran doesn’t have a bomb, so it can’t give one to any other group. But no nuclear nation has ever behaved that way anyway. Everyone knows that terrorists are flaky and sometimes turn on you. Iran would not risk such a thing and it is bizarre that anyone would allege it would. Tony Blair talked like this on CNN last night, but we know that he is a servant of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and of the oil giant BP.
Netanyahu even delivered an excursus on Shiite theology at the UN (yes):
“There’s a great scholar of the Middle East, Prof. Bernard Lewis, who put it best. He said that for the Ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement.
Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth.
That’s not just what they believe. That’s what is actually guiding their policies and their actions.”
I don’t know if Bernard Lewis really told Netanyahu that, but it is a shockingly ignorant and Orientalist thing to say. Imam Ruhollah Khomeini did not believe that the promised one of Shiism was coming any time soon, which is what created the need for an Islamic Republic run by clerics. They are to authorize religious practices until the 12th Imam, their messiah, comes.
The sayings in Shiism about the end of time are all over the place, but they typically predict that the Twelfth Imam will arise “when the world is full of injustice.” It isn’t an atomic explosion that would usher him in, but oppression and brutality.
While the current has-been, lame duck president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, probably does believe that the Twelfth Imam will come soon, he is not important (the Supreme Leader makes policy in Iran, and Ahmadinejad is more like a weak vice president). Moreover, he is disliked by the ruling ayatollahs for precisely this reason. The ayatollahs are in the business of taking up the slack from a missing Imam. If the Imam comes back, they risk unemployment.
Netanyahu has descended to the level of just making things up.