Fact-checking Bibi and Company’s Talking Points on Iran

by Marsha B. Cohen

There’s been considerable media buzz in the past several days about Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer’s role in engineering an invitation from Republican leaders for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address both Houses of Congress about Iran. Dermer’s partisan machinations deliberately excluded the White House and State Department from any knowledge of the invitation.

Israeli sources report that Dermer “has turned himself into persona non grata” within the Obama administration. Word is also getting out that Israel’s Civil Service Commission has reprimanded Dermer for engaging in prohibited political campaigning on Netanyahu’s behalf and using the American media to score points for his boss. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak before Congress on March 3, two weeks before Israel’s parliamentary elections.

The real story, however, is that Dermer has already leaked the core of Netanyahu’s likely invective against Iran. In a speech to an Israel Bonds fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida on January 25—the text of which he posted to Facebook immediately afterwards—Dermer leveled a litany of accusations against Iran. He repeated several of these charges in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic on January 30, intoning that Netanyahu had a “moral obligation” to address Congress “while there is still time.”

It is reasonable to assume that Dermer’s talking points not only reflect Netanyahu’s own thinking but anticipate what the Israeli leader would tell the House and Senate. A former Republican operative from Florida who is often referred to as “Bibi’s brain,” Dermer truly does speak for his prime minister (and possibly vice versa). Dermer said, in part, that:

Iran is the world’s most dangerous regime. It has already devoured four Arab capitals—Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Saana in Yemen—and it is hungry for more. Iran is the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world, perpetrating or ordering attacks in 25 countries on five continents in the last four years alone.

Iran is responsible for the murder of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and hundreds of Marines in Lebanon. It is responsible for the bombings of US Embassies in Africa and for the twin bombings two decades ago in Argentina.

This reign of terror and violence has all happened without Iran having a nuclear weapon. Now just imagine how much more dangerous Iran will be with nuclear weapons.

And do not think that America is beyond Iran’s reach.

Today, Iran is building ICBMs—Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Now only in cartoons do ICBMS carry TNT. In the real world, they carry nuclear payloads. And those ICBMS that Iran is building are not designed to hit Israel. Iran already has missiles for that.

Those ICBMs are designed to reach Europe and the United States—to reach New York, Washington and Miami.

For Israel, a nuclear armed Iran would be a clear and present danger.

Iran’s regime threatens Israel with destruction. Its leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, recently tweeted—in English—that Israel must be annihilated. Iran has used Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other proxies to fire thousands of rockets and threaten Israel from Lebanon, Gaza, the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Iran’s regime is both committed to Israel’s destruction and working toward Israel’s destruction.

Today, the international community stands at the precipice of forging an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

The agreement that is being discussed today is not an agreement that would dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, but rather one that could leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state. That is an agreement that could endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.

LobeLog invited several experts to evaluate and weigh in on Dermer’s contentions about Iran since they are likely to be echoed and reiterated by Netanyahu before Congress next month. Here’s what they had to say:

“Iran is the world’s most dangerous regime…”

North Korea is “far more dangerous” than Iran, according to Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow of the Arms Control Association and a former Foreign Service officer:

The Kim regime has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and has tested nuclear devices three times within the last decade. It is now believed to possess at least a few nuclear weapons and it has recklessly threatened to attack the American mainland. The country’s inexperienced 30-year-old dictator has absolute power, and its population is almost completely isolated from any outside contacts.

Iran, on the other hand, remains a member of the NPT, has no nuclear weapons, has never tested nuclear devices, and argues that any development, possession, or use of nuclear weapons is immoral. Even the Supreme Leader does not have absolute power in Iran’s complicated and semi-democratic political system. Its population is relatively well-educated and connected to the wider world.

It has already devoured four Arab capitals…

“The only capital Iran has any real influence in, beyond military supplies, is Baghdad, and that is only because of the U.S. overthrow of Saddam in 2003,” Charles D. Smith, professor emeritus of Middle East history at the University of Arizona, observes. “The irony in Damascus is that Assad’s support relies largely though not only on the non-Muslim Christian communities of various denominations who fear a radical Sunni takeover.”

“Iran, unlike Israel, is not in occupation of any territory outside its borders,” notes Peter Jenkins, former British ambassador to the IAEA between 2001-2006. “Iran is entitled to be on friendly terms with the governments of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, just as Israel is on friendly terms with the government of Saudi Arabia.”

“It assumes that Iran dominates the governments of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq,” says William O. Beeman, professor and chair of the Anthropology department at the University of Minnesota, and author of The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. “This is beyond ridiculous. Believe me, if Iran did dominate these nations, there would be a lot more stability!”

“Iran is the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world…”

“The old ‘greatest sponsor of terrorism’ nonsense [is] especially silly given the support for ISIS/ISIL/IS coming out of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States,” Beeman says. “Also, where is the proof of predominant support for Hamas from Iran? They get 80% of all support from the Arab world.”

“Iran’s regime is both committed to Israel’s destruction and working toward Israel’s destruction.”

“Iran is opposed to the existence of a state that privileges Jews at the expense of Palestinians,” Jenkins avers. “It is not committed to killing the inhabitants of Israel.”

“Today Iran is building ICBMs…designed to reach Europe and the United States…”

Thielmann challenges Israeli and U.S. claims that Iran is developing a long-range missile capability, which he insists Iran neither needs nor has the technological capability to produce:

Today, Iran is building short- and medium-range missiles up to 2,000 kilometers in range. No longer-range missiles have ever been seen in Iran, flight-tested or deployed by Iran. Iranian political and military leaders, who have vociferously justified Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, have never asserted a need for ICBMs (missiles defined as having a range of 5,500-plus kilometers). If as Ambassador Dermer contends, Iranian ICBMs are designed to reach Miami, they would have to fly 11,000 kilometers! The physics and engineering of missile development have not changed since the vice chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council explained to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1995 that making “the change from a short- or medium-range missile…to a long-range ICBM…is a major technological leap.

“The agreement that is being discussed today…is not an agreement that would dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability…

“Iran has had a capability to eventually build nuclear weapons for some time,” Thielmann explains.

This capability, which flows from the knowledge of Iranian scientists and the industrial and technical infrastructure of the country, was explicitly acknowledged in the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s Nuclear Program. It cannot be negotiated away (or destroyed from the air). Instead, the P5+1 negotiations with Iran seek to achieve a comprehensive agreement that ensures Iran’s nuclear program is sufficiently transparent that the international community is confident that it is entirely peaceful and shuts off the pathways to quickly break out of the NPT in pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

“Over 10 years with more than 7,000 man-day inspections, the IAEA has confirmed no evidence of diversion,” says Seyed Hossein Mousavian, associate research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. “The number of inspections is unprecedented in the history of the IAEA.” Although the maximum the international community can expect is an agreement within the NPT, Mousavian insists that Iran is willing to go well beyond its NPT obligations—and its voluntary as well as obligatory Safeguard Agreements—in order to achieve a final deal. Iran would cooperate “on the major confidence-building measures assuring non-diversion for a number of years,” including capping enrichment at 5%, capping Iran’s nuclear stockpile, capping plutonium production, and no reprocessing. “These measures are all beyond the NPT.”

“…one that could leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

“Threshold states do not possess nuclear weapons,” former IAEA Ambassador Jenkins points out. “That is why they are not outlawed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

“…an agreement that could endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.”

Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty member in Political Science at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, observes:

It is interesting that after a whole treatise about the physical danger a nuclear-armed Iran poses to the world, Dermer ends up stating that a mere threshold status made possible by the agreement would endanger the very existence of the state of Israel. As such, despite all the bravado that usually comes from the hardline Israeli right about Israeli might, this is the best testament to the depth of Israeli vulnerability and a great sales pitch in support of an agreement to hardliners in Iran who oppose any agreement with the U.S.

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Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

SHOW 8 COMMENTS

8 Comments

  1. Thanks Marsha for pulling all this information together in one place!
    Akbar M is making a good point and his comments remind me of my fourth grade bully classmate! The bully boy bullied the rest of his classmates including myself daily! Until a bunch of us conspired and beat the crap out of him which was the end of his bullying! Unfortunately his parents instead of teaching him the right behavior they yanked their boy from our school to another school sometimes later that year. Unfortunately, now we have 2, a very large and power and another tiny and insignificant, bullies who bully the entire ME in favore of stealing its resources and also to justify the existence of the tiny bully!!
    The conspiracy in the ME is unification of the Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites, which puts the fear of God in many hearts outside of the ME! This the reason for conquer and divide in the ME by the west. I don’t know if I’d see the unification of Muslims in my life time but it won’t surprise me if it comes about by the future generations of the ME due to shear frustration! The people of ME are very patient with an excellent long term memory!!

  2. The Quaker Friends Committee on National Legislation maintains a web page that collects quotes by U.S. and Israeli leaders and intelligence agencies including the consensus position of all U.S. intelligence agencies all to the effect that Iran has made no decision to pursue nuclear weapons. http://fcnl.org/issues/iran/us_israeli_intelligence_officials_iran_is_not_pursuing_nuclear_weapons/index.html

    Notwithstanding, a poll in 2012 showed that four out of five Americans believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons and that it is a threat to the U.S. and its NATO allies, which is a testament to the effectiveness of Israeli propaganda operations directed at the U.S. http://goo.gl/NNtTWK

    My patience with Israel’s influence in the U.S. wore out many years ago. Israel has been a radical tail wagging the U.S. dog for way too long and Israel has abused its influence far too severely.

    The spector of the Obama Administration negotiating with Iran over a non-existent threat while Israel and its friends desperately attempt scuttle the negotiations represents an absurdity in U.S. politics. The real Israel goal is to instigate a U.S. war against Iran, as Netanyahu made clear during the pre-2012 election posturing.

    Israel’s interests and those of the U.S. are far from identical. With an “ally” like Israel, who needs enemies?

  3. This is a good beginning in responding to typical Israeli unfounded assertions about Iran, but it is very incomplete. Many important facts are omitted in the above or are stated without documentation or references, which means the statements lack gravitas. For instance, in supporting the statement that Iran’s leader considers nuclear weapons sinful, the historical evidence shows that during the Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein was using poison gas, Iran refrained from using it against Iraq, on moral/religious grounds. Thus the Khamenei fatwa is not an empty gesture (References here might include Hiltermann’s “A poisonous affair” plus other first-hand statements by those involved in the Iranian decision). Or in countering the “existential threat” argument, statements by Israeli IDF and Intelligence leaders, denying that Iran poses an existential threat, would be powerful. Or, the extreme Chutzpah of Israel in accusing Iran of a secret nuclear program should be called out by telling the nasty story of how Israel lied about and cheated on its nuclear weapons program on numerous occasions (Reference: Cohen, “Israel and the bomb”).
    Would it be possible to rapidly assemble a much more complete and referenced refutation of Dermer’s accusations so that it could be released to the press if and when Netanyahu gives his Congressional or AIPAC speeches in early March?

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