Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In the February issue of Foreign Policy, Jacques E. C. Hymans urges that it is time for the U.S. and Israel to stop overreacting about Iran’s nuclear program, which might otherwise be a welcome departure from the usual fearmongering, but for the fact that the reason he offers is just a new spin on the same old propaganda theme.

Hymans states that “Israel has consistently overestimated Iran’s nuclear program for decades” and that “U.S. intelligence agencies have been only slightly less alarmist, and they, too, have had to extend their timelines repeatedly.” While the former statement is certainly true enough, the latter is a remarkably odd assertion, given the fact that the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community is that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. Hymans surely cannot be unaware of this. Furthermore, Israeli intelligence agrees that Iran has not decided to build a bomb—in other words, that it has no active nuclear weapons program.

Of course, both Israeli and American government officials continually make proclamations to the contrary, just as U.S. officials repeatedly made claims not only unsupported but contradicted by the available intelligence prior to the Iraq war. Hymans alludes to this, writing that “similar, unfounded fears were the basis for President George W. Bush’s preemptive attack against Iraq and its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.” Indeed, the U.S. government had waged a disinformation campaign against the public in order to manufacture consent for the policy of regime change, with the myth of an “intelligence failure” subsequently being invented in order to cover up the fact that government officials had repeatedly lied in order to start a war. The parallel to the situation is Iran is certainly warranted, but, unfortunately, Hymans fails to draw the most important lesson from that history, too obvious to mention.

On the contrary, he contents himself to repeat the same mistake by acting the propagandist and declaring, without evidence and contrary to the U.S.’s own intelligence assessment, that Iran is actively trying to build a nuclear weapon. “What explains Israel’s most recent intelligence failure?” he asks.

Israeli officials have suggested that Iran decided to downshift its nuclear program in response to international sanctions and Israel’s hawkish posture. But that theory falls apart when judged against Tehran’s own recent aggressiveness. In the past few months, Iran has blocked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from gaining access to suspect facilities, stalled on diplomatic meetings, and announced a “successful” space shot and the intention to build higher-quality centrifuges. These are not the actions of a state that is purposely slowing down its nuclear program.

What Hymans fails to mention to his readers is that the IAEA has had full access to all facilities Iran is legally obligated to permit inspectors to visit under its safeguards agreement. He refers to Iran’s refusal to permit access to a sensitive military installation at Parchin, which Iran is under no legal obligation to allow the IAEA access to. Furthermore, the claim that the Parchin site has been used to advance Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon arose from the IAEA’s November 2011 report, which suggested that a nuclear expert from a foreign country had helped Iran to develop an explosives containment unit there. But the individual referred to in the report, Vlachyslav Danilenko, never worked on weapons and denied having assisted Iran to that end. Danilenko is known for specializing in the production of nano-diamonds and acknowledged working in Iran to develop an explosive containment cylinder for that purpose. In addition, Iran has repeatedly offered to permit the IAEA access to the site if the agency was willing to offer an assurance that Iran would be given a clean bill of health if no proscribed activity was found to have taken place there, a reasonable request the IAEA has refused to agree to.

As for supposedly having “stalled” on talks, Hymans again fails to mention that Iran has repeatedly expressed its desire to enter negotiations with the U.S. and other Western nations, but with the assumption that they should be founded on mutual respect and recognition of Iran’s rights, while the U.S. has rather insisted as a basis for talks that Iran must accept its ultimatum under the threat of force to surrender its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Hymans accepts the basic framework of the U.S. position unquestioningly, even describing Iran’s intention to legally build better centrifuges as an example of its “aggressiveness”. He has no words for the aggressiveness of the U.S. threat to use military force—a violation of the U.N. Charter—if Iran does not surrender to its demands, or for the U.S.’s “crippling sanctions” targeting Iran’s civilian population—an act of collective punishment also in violation of international law.

Hymans meaninglessly comments that the behaviors he cites are not signs from Iran “that it is purposely slowing down its nuclear program.” That is true. Iran has been more than clear that it has no intention of doing so. More relevantly, however, its actions are also not signs that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, that its program is intended for anything other than peaceful civilian purposes.

To explain the U.S. and Israel’s ostensible “intelligence failure” on Iran, Hymans writes:

The most plausible reason for the consistent pattern of overstatement is that Israeli and U.S. models of Iranian proliferation are flawed. Sure enough, Israeli officials have acknowledged that they did not anticipate the high number of technical problems Iranian scientists have run into recently…. There is ample reason to believe that such slipups have been the main cause of Iran’s extremely slow pace of nuclear progress all along.

So Iran really does have nuclear weapons program, Hymans would have his readers believe, and is actively trying to build a bomb—it just isn’t very good at it. Iran has “a dysfunctional nuclear weapons program”, he asserts, without the slightest shred of evidence to support his claim that there is a military aspect to Iran’s program; and this, then, is the explanation for the U.S. and Israeli “intelligence failure” of “overreacting” about just how imminent the threat of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon is. “Since U.S. and Israeli intelligence services have failed to appreciate the weakness of Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” he argues, “they have not adjusted their analytical models accordingly.”

One could otherwise argue that the U.S. and Israel very much “appreciate the weakness of Iran’s nuclear weapons program”, since the intelligence agencies of both countries assess that such a program is nonexistent. As for proclamations to the contrary made by both nations’ political leaders, Hymans doesn’t consider the simplest and most obvious explanation: they are lying. It just would not do for the priesthood of the state religion to suggest such things; hence the necessity for manufacturing another mythical “intelligence failure” to explain away why there just doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support the declarations of officialdom.