Bibi Netanyahu's New Iran Scare (Feelings of Deja Vu All Over Again)

Israel's Prime Minister put on quite a show on Monday to prove that Iran lied about its nuclear weapons program and that the entire Iranian Nuclear Deal was built on a pack of lies. His speech focused on half a ton of secret Iranian nuclear archives that Israel had obtained.  There can be no question that the purpose of Netanyahu's speech was to persuade Donald Trump to kill the Iranian nuclear weapons deal.  Rather than describe the speech in detail, I'll let you watch it for yourself.

 

 

So how should we evaluate Netanyahu's speech. First, it is important to note that this is not the first time that Netanyahu has made alarmist claims about Iran's nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu and others in Israel have been predicting since the 1990's that Iran was only a few years away from getting nuclear weapons. You can review a timeline of past Israeli claims here.

 

As I have written before, if we abandon the nuclear deal then Iran will be free to pursue its nuclear weapons program.  Since Iran has shown no interest in renegotiating the deal if we break it, we are likely to face a stark choice--allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or go to war to stop it. And make no mistake--a war with Iran will be much more difficult than our war with Iraq. Iran is a significantly bigger country with a larger population than Iraq. And unlike Iraq's population, Iran's population will be united in fighting against us. And speaking of wars in Iraq, make sure you watch the video below of Netanyahu's 2002 tesimony before Congress in which he urged us to invade Iraq.  Most amusingly, Netanyahu claimed, ”If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region."  He went on to say that though he didn't guarantee it, the government of Iran would likely fall in the aftermath of an Iraqi invasion."

 

 

 

 

Second, Netanyahu's speech provides convincing evidence that Iran lied when it claimed it never had a nuclear weapons program.  We now have convincing evidence that Iran HAD a vigorous, robust nuclear weapons program. We've known that all along. But despite Netanyahu's scary presentation, and despite the fact that our White House  erroneously issued a press release claiming that Iran HAS a robust nuclear weapons program (and then quietly changed its press release online without issuing another correction), NOTHING in Netanyahu's presentation indicated that Iran violated the deal by restarting its weapons program. In fact, the material Netanyahu presented appears to refer only to Iran's nuclear activities before 2004.

Third, Netanyahu did not reveal much new that experts didn't already know.  See, for example, this tweetstorm by Jeffrey Lewis, the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Or this thread by Max Fisher. Or read this Defense One piece by Joshua Pollack, the editor for Nonproliferation Review. Here are a few excerpts, but read the entire article.

 

Contrary to claims that the deal required Iran to “come clean” and be truthful about its past weapons research, it required only that Iran implement an agreement with the IAEA, facilitating its investigation into Iran’s past activities—which is what happened. Everyone involved understood that Iran’s leaders were lying to save face. After more than a decade of denials, they would not undergo the humiliation of a public admission to the contrary. It’s absurd to imagine otherwise.

 

To some, Iran’s regime is so pernicious that keeping the strongest possible sanctions going for as long as possible may seem more important than convincing Tehran not to indulge its nuclear ambitions. But this argument is rarely voiced openly, and is doubtful on the merits. Every other threat that Iran poses—terrorism, subversion, and missile proliferation—would only be abetted by its possession of nuclear weapons.

 

And if you are still not convinced, read this excellent summary by Zack Beauchamp at Vox.

 

Fourth, a logical person would infer from Netanyahu's presentation that we need to keep the treaty BECAUSE Iran can't be trusted.  As Fred Kaplan writes in Slate:

 

However, the larger message of the archive—and Netanyahu’s briefing—is that the Iran nuclear deal, now more than ever, is worth preserving. Netanyahu pointed to documents suggesting that Iran had plans—he talked of secret documents, charts, presentations, and blueprints—for every aspect of designing, building, and testing nuclear weapons. What he neglected to point out is that the deal gives international inspectors highly intrusive powers to verify whether Iran is taking any steps to pursue those plans.

 

In Senate hearings last week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified that after reading the full text of the deal three times, he was struck by how solid its inspection provisions are. “I will say it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” Mattis said. “So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in” and check on compliance.

 

Any logical person would want us to keep Iran under the strictest verification regime ever negotiated. Unfortunately, Netanyahu was speaking to an audience of one--Donald Trump. Unless President Trump uses his logic to overcome Netanyahu's appeal to emotion, the Iran Deal is toast.